I can personally say that my life has changed for the better since I started addressing my own struggles with my gut. In my early twenties I realized that I was gluten intolerant AND allergic to dairy. It took four to five years before I actually began to see how many negative side effects this issue was really causing. My daily life had be plagued with mood swings, weight issues, ridiculous amounts of water retention, anxiety, depression, and hormonal imbalances. It wasn’t until I began to take to the necessary steps to heal my gut bacteria that I began to actually feel sane and normal again. I believe that studies such as this one from UCLA, are just the tip of the iceberg and that in the next two years research and society will begin to understand the true impact that gut health has on our mind and body.
While western medicine is just beginning to accept probiotics as an aid for many ailments, this research links the gut health to the mind. UCLA researchers have found that bacteria ingested from can foods affect brain function in humans. Researches have known that the brain sends signals to the gut, but this is the first time that they have evidence of the reverse. In the past it had only been proven in animals. Now, they know that it can create the same effect in humans.
“Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,” Tillisch said. “Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.”
How Gut Bacteria Influenced the Brain
A study of 36 females was conducted. The group was divided into 3 and give 3 different mixtures of yogurt. One group received yogurt with a mix of several probiotics and consumed it twice a day for 4 weeks. Another group ate yogurt without any probiotics added probiotics, and a third group (the control group) ate no yogurt at all.
The women were then testing using fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging. This was done both before and after the 4 week study at rest and during a emotion based recognition study. The participants were shown images of both angry and frightened faces. They were to match these faces to the corresponding images of other faces with the same emotion. The aim of the recognition test was to measure “the engagement of affective and cognitive brain regions in response to a visual stimulus. It was chosen because previous research in animals had linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors.”
The results of this study showed in comparison to the women who did take the probiotics, the women who went without had decreased brain function in the “insula — which processes and integrates internal body sensations, like those from the gut — and the somatosensory cortex during the emotional reactivity task.” These women also had less brain activity relating to emotion, cognition, and sensory areas of the brain.
The group that ingested yogurt with probiotics and the group that ingested plain yogurt both had a steady increase in brain activity.
The Key Factor Related to the Probiotic Group and Gut Bacteria
I know what you’re thinking, “If I can get this reaction from yogurt, why would I opt to add in additional probiotics?” Here’s your answer….
During the resting brain scan, the women consuming probiotics showed greater connectivity between a key brainstem region known as the periaqueductal grey and cognition-associated areas of the prefrontal cortex. The women who ate no product at all, on the other hand, showed greater connectivity of the periaqueductal grey to emotion- and sensation-related regions, while the group consuming the non-probiotic dairy product showed results in between.
SO, probiotics increase BOTH your periaqueductal grey and cognition-associated areas of the prefrontal cortex. This means that both sensory and and emotion were affected.
This further proves that the intestines signal the brain and that the old saying “your gut is your second brain,” could actually be VERY true.
There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora — in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,” Mayer said. “Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function (source).”
The next step in the UCLA process is linking specific chemical reactions produced in the gut to possible outcomes in the body. This could also be the beginning of connecting many of societies physical ailments and manipulating the gut flora to find possible cures for chronic pain, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, and autism.