How your intestines’ bacteria affect emotional health

When people typically think about what parts of the body affect emotions, they’re more likely to think of the brain or the heart first. But, believe it or not, the most mentally influential organs within ourselves are the large and small intestines.

The trillions of bacteria, known as the microbiota, have some important jobs within our intestines. They help us digest our food, protect us from disease, neutralize toxic by-products that stem from the digestive process, and make it more difficult for unhealthy bacteria to thrive within our stomachs. Considering they make up around 4.5 pounds of our body, they are quite a strong force.

The microbiota also affects things outside of the stomach. One connection is on the obvious side. Feelings of anxiety tend to disrupt our stomachs by making us feel queasy, and depression causes constipation. But a research group in Ireland found that this also goes the other way around. Probiotic-fed mice were more suited to handle anxiety-inducing scenarios and less likely to feel depression than the control group, that received a bland broth.

Another connection centers around our personalities. A study at McMaster University found that when the gut bacteria of two groups of mice were switched with one another, the mice began to switch personalities as well. Originally, the two groups of mice were separated into an “extrovert” group and an “introvert” group. By the time the experiment concluded, the mice had the exact opposite personality that they had started with.

A third connection comes from a theory on cravings. Certain sections of the microbiota actually crave certain foods more than others. When food that is popular among the bacteria gets consumed, they produce particles that get sent to the brain and turned into dopamine and serotonin. The source of anger and frustration that comes shortly after starting a diet may actually come from bacteria in your stomach. This is an untested theory, but a well-formed on nonetheless.

Interested in how this can be changed? Contact your primary care physician to find healthier ways to create lasting change in your diet that your microbiota will enjoy. You can also simply give us a call to schedule a consultation at 410-565-6552!


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