Microbiome and mood

Microbes and mental health: what is the connection?

It is commonly known that good microbes help digestion, immune system development as well as the production of vitamins, to name a few. But did you know that the same microbes play a role in emotions and brain development? Yes, it is true! Your sadness, anger, anxiety and depression (as well as your happiness) are largely determined by millions of tiny little bacteria found in your body, primarily in your gut. Keep reading to find out how exactly this works and what to do to make the most of this situation.

Vyara

Are your microbes making you happy or crazy?

The human microbiome (found on the surface of the skin as well as all organs/tubes in the body exposed to air) has a profound effect on our physical and mental health. Imagine this: the total DNA of all the microbes in a healthy body is 200 times the human DNA! And more importantly, some of those microbial genes not only help the microbes themselves but they also help us!

Where do we get the microbiome from?

It is considered that the baby in the womb is sterile. During birth, the baby has its first exposure to the mother’s microbiome while passing through the birth canal. That, together with the microbiome in the breast milk, plays a crucial role in the onset of our immune system development. (Hence, babies born through Caesarean and/or not breast-fed have weaker immune systems). Later in life, the microbiome is influenced by exposure to the environment (and, of course, overuse of anti-microbial soaps affects negatively the development of the human microbiome). One interesting thing to note here is the fact that playing with dogs (but not with cats!) helps build a healthy microbiome. And last but not least, proper nutrition and avoidance of medication is another factor in keeping our microbiome healthy.

What do microbes do for our mood and our brains?

Now, we know that ‘good’ microbes help digestion, immune system functioning and the production of vitamins, among many other things. But did you know that the same microbes play a role in emotions and brain development?

Microbes make two important compounds, ARA and DHA, both of which tell brain cells to divide. Hence, these compounds are crucial for babies and young children as their brains are still growing and developing. ARA and DHA have been shown to play an important role in learning and memory.

Furthermore, gut bacteria send signals to the brain as they make a large number of neuro-transmitters which regulate not only physiological processes but also mood and emotions. Here are some of these neuro-transmitters:

  • Melatonin: regulates sleep and inflammation
  • Acetylcholine: regulates endocrine function (i.e. hormones and therefore mood) and REM sleep function
  • GABA: regulates anxiety
  • Serotonin: regulates appetite, sex drive, sleep, memory, mood and social behavior, to name but a few

Keeping your microbiome healthy

In truth, the above is only but a fraction of all the benefits that we get from keeping our microbiome healthy (i.e. making sure we have a rich variety of beneficial bacteria populating our gut, skin, etc. which, in turn, takes care of the unhealthy fungus, parasites and other pathogens making us sick and moody). So the importance of looking after our microbiome properly cannot be underestimated. And here are some basic rules to follow in that respect:

  • Eat plenty of both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as probiotic foods.
  • Avoid sugar, alcohol and dead/processed food.
  • Avoid antibiotics as much as you can – they don’t kill viruses anyway! They kill all the good microbes, and they make pathological bacteria more resistant and persistent.
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