Gut feelings: The microbes involved in our mental health

Writing for the Glasgow Insight into Science & Technology (GIST), Carolina Guidolin reports:

“Normally, around 1014 (one hundred trillion) microorganisms live in our gut, supporting our health in many ways, from providing essential vitamins to helping our immune systems develop1. However, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and increases in experienced stress can threaten microbial populations. The disrupted gut microorganisms balance, called ‘dysbiosis’, may be affecting our well-being more than previously thought2.

Research on animals suggests that a two-way communication pathway exists along the ‘gut-brain axis’. Unbalanced gut microorganisms can affect our brain, and our mental health can also change neuronal networks that ultimately impact the composition of microbes in our gut. For example, administering the bacterium Lactobacillus Plantarum reduced anxiety levels and behaviours typically associated with depression in mice, and increasing the concentration of serotonin, the ‘happiness neurotransmitter’, in the brain3. Similar studies are identifying various bacteria strains associated with improvement in mood, depression and anxiety, highlight the importance of gut microbes for our mental health4 …”

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