Our Gut and Our Brain: A brief look at the research

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to share with you some of the research on the impact of your gut health on brain health and mental health.

There’s a growing body of absolutely fascinating research that looks at the impact that our gut has on our brain and our gut’s ability to produce some of the crucial hormones and nutrients that we need to keep our brain’s healthy and help combat low mood, anxiety and even anger.

Our gut is the biggest producer of serotonin, the mood regulating hormone, meaning if your experiencing gut problems you may also be experiencing low moods. More people are turning to looking at their gut health and adding fermented foods into their diet to help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and for better memory and cognition. I am also one of them. My experience, like others may seem anecdotal, but there’s research to support the mental health improvements that come with focused attention on looking after your gut. 

So here’s a quick run-down of some of the recently published evidence, this is by no mean an exhaustive list, but rather provides some insight into a growing body of fascinating research that links our gut health and mental health. Believe me, there is more out there and more on its way!  

(1) Modern diet and lifestyle can compromise the gut lining, making it permeable to toxins and food, allowing them to enter the bloodstream which can initiate an inflammatory response.

  • This inflammatory response has been linked to depression (1), schizophrenia (2), autism spectrum disorder (3) and anorexia (4)

(2) A growing body of research suggests that beneficial bacteria, or probiotics have a range of positive effects on mental health ranging from helping with depression to processing of emotion.

  • Consumption of fermented beverages containing Lactobacillus caesi for 3 weeks was found to improve mood and cognition in adults with digestive complaints (5)
  • Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterum longum improved depression, anxiety and anger in adults (6)
  • One month consumption of fermented dairy products were found to influence the regions of the brain involved in the central processing of emotion (7)
  • Host of research into the reciprocal relationship between the brain and degeneration associated with disease such as Alzheimer’s and dementia and Multiple Sclerosis (8)

(3) Probiotics appear to influence mental health by sending signals through the gut-brain microbiome axis, which connects the body’s central nervous system (which houses the brain and the spinal cord) and the enteric nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract (9)

(4) These beneficial bacteria can also promote mental health by increasing the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals that regulate mood, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and polyphenols (10).

(1) Maes, M et al (2008) The Gut-Brain Barrier in Major Depression: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18283240

(2) Wood, N C et al (2018)Abnormal Intestinal Permeability https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/abnormal-intestinal-permeability/869C13A62CEA5977FDA79511221339D3

(3) de Magistris, L et al (2010) Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683204

(4) Herpertz-Dahlmann, B et al (2017) Food matters: how the microbiome and gut–brain interaction might impact the development and course of anorexia nervosa https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5591351/

(5) Benton, D et al (2010) Impact of consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic on mood and cognition https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17151594

(6) Messaoudi, M et al (2011) Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015

(7) Tillisch, K et al (2013) Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23474283

(8) majeri, M (2019) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30781628 

(9)Mayer, E et al (2015) https://www.jci.org/articles/view/76304

(10) Filiosa, S, et al (2018) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6199944/

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