Gut bacteria – those useful, good little guys that live inside and on you — have the capacity to change how your mind works! This is what is increasingly being pointed out by new research.
The human body works in concert with its gut microbiota that assists it in processes like digestion and protection from infections. These bacteria might be doing more than just preserving our general health. They might also be changing our minds.
A growing body of research is indicating that the microorganisms living in our alimentary canal might be modifying the way our brains work. This brings a new question to our attention: can we make use of these bacteria to boost the capacity of the brain, thereby becoming relevant to mental health? This is the possibility that new research demonstrates.
The researchers engineered gut bacteria which were then administered in lab rats. The latter thereafter showed changes in their behaviour. Anxious mice were turned bold while shy mice were made more sociable. Conversely, other research has shown that stress changes the microbiome in not so good ways. Also, when bacteria obtained from depressed people (called melancholic microbes) were inoculated into rats, they displayed signs of depression. Furthermore, studies done on people also showed that individuals consuming specific strains of bacteria have changed brain activity while their anxiety is reduced; a group of 22 men were made to take a pill laden with bacteria for 4 weeks: they reported less daily stress, and their memory was found to have grown sharper.
How does this happen? It appears that gut bacteria are able to synthesise those chemicals that are used by brain cells for communication purposes. For instance, bacillus is known to make dopamine, and Enterococcus to make serotonin.
These findings are not conclusive yet. However, they do suggest that working with the right type of bacteria might positively affect one’s one, and perhaps, this might also be exploited to relieve patients of mental disorders like anxiety and depression. The trick (albeit, challenging) would be to find out the exact strains and proportions thereof of the healthy microbe populations to concoct such ‘cures’. What will complicate matters further will be the different individual requirements: there might not be one recipe for all, rather, the ingredients will possibly differ from person to person. Yet another obstacle is the lack of knowledge concerning the interactions between the brain and gut bacteria. How does the microbiome send messages to the brain and vice versa? Scientists have not replied to these questions yet.
Still, a team led by neuroscientist John Cryan from the University College Cork, Ireland, intends to find a way leading to the “psychobiotics” (drugs made with bacteria that might enhance mental health).
The studies are increasingly asking the resounding question: can our gut bacteria change your mood?