In our never-ending search for happiness, we may need to look no further than our own gut.
The gut has actually been nicknamed the “second brain” because of a large number of neurotransmitters found there. Serotonin is found in great concentration in the bowels and is responsible for some roles such as helping nerves communicate, contracting smooth muscles and balancing mood and appetite.
The vagus nerve connects the brain and the gut and is the primary source of communication between the two. “Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut, ” says Dr. Kirsten Tillisch a professor of Medicine at UCLA.
Probiotics have been known to improve conditions such as IBS and Crohn’s disease, but new research is pointing to gut bacteria influencing our mood.
A new study done by Dr. Cameron Meier of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry showed that lab rat’s mood could actually be manipulated based on what bacteria was introduced to the gut. The lab rat’s mood varied from timid to aggressive depending on the type of bacteria.
GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits brain activity. Low levels of GABA have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders. Northeastern University in Boston found that bacteria in the gut were eating GABA leaving low levels in the body. Not having the right balance of bacteria in the gut made individuals more prone to higher brain activity associated with anxiety and depression.
The bacteria in our body is heavily influenced by our daily choices. GMO foods, chlorinated water, agricultural chemicals, antibiotics and processed foods all have a negative effect on our gut bacteria. With the Standard American Diet lacking in cultured and fermented foods supplementing with a good probiotic helps to replenish the gut bacteria with healthy strains.
Since almost 80% of your immune system stems from the gut, having a healthy balance of bacteria is essential for fighting off viruses. Proper bacteria helps the body determine whether certain foods, for example, are “invaders or friendly” decreasing the likelihood of food allergies.
The benefits of probiotics are vast including stronger immune systems, increased mood, lower inflammation. Studies are now researching the connection to gut bacteria and ADHD and autism.
The future is bright for probiotics and mental health. Scientists can now say adding healthy bacteria to the gut does actually increase happiness.