Our gastrointestinal system is one of the most advanced and complex microbial ecosystems. We usually don’t think much of our gut, but it’s actually one of the most important systems for our health. In fact, some experts have dubbed it our second brain. The gut is home to millions of fungi, bacteria, and viruses. They make up the gut microbiome which is very important for our health. This fact might surprise you, but we all have more bacterial than human DNA in our bodies.
The Link Between Mental and Gut Health
According to the newest findings, our mental health may be linked to our gut microbiome. So much, in fact, that studies have proposed that correcting the microbiome may have a better effect than antidepressants.
In a 2013 article issued in the Biological Psychiatry magazine, scientists have suggested that mental problems such as anxiety, PTSD, and others may be neutralized with the use of probiotics. More specifically, the strains that work best against stress are Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus helveticus. Dr. Emeran Mayer compared the brain scans of volunteers in the study, looking for links between the brain structure and the bacteria in their gut. Depending on the dominant species of bacteria, their brain areas were differently connected. This means that the bacteria we have in our gut actually determines our ‘type’ of brain.
The Gut – Our Second Brain
Cat and dog brains have about 200 million neurons. You know what else has that much neurons? The human gut. This makes our gut as smart as an animal and the millions of microorganisms in there have an effect on many biological processes in the body. More connections between the brain and gut; the brain is home to our central nervous system, while the gut is home to the enteric nervous system. Both are connected to each other through the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the human body.
You know what serotonin is, right? This important hormone is responsible for our happiness and is actually produced in our gut. Both the brain and gut use the same neurotransmitters to communicate between each other. The serotonin from the gut acts on the brain and the hypothalamus, controlling our emotions. This is a new revolutionary finding and shows that the brain and gut communicate in a much more complex way than previously thought. As a matter of fact, it shows that our gut is in control of our emotions.
How Does the Gut Affect our Emotions?
A recent study examined how the gut reacts in people suffering from IBS. This difficult condition may be caused by a variety of triggers, with some doctors hypothesizing that it may be caused by disrupted communication channels between the brain and gut. What could cause these disruptions? Well, the nerves in the gut of IBS patients are far more active than normal, which has led the scientists to believe that a hypersensitive nervous system may be the reason for IBS.
Knowing this, it makes sense to think that hypnosis can resolve this problem. It will make the brain less sensitive to the pain signals it receives from the gut, effectively severing the wrong connection. Tests have already been done on it, and hypnosis has shown a lot of potential for IBS.
In a similar fashion, Dr. Zhi-yun Bo, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, has used acupuncture to treat a wide range of physical and mental problems.
Can Parkinson’s Disease be a Gut Disorder?
Parkinson’s disease has long been thought of and treated like a mental disorder. However, the recent findings suggest that it might actually be a gut disorder. In Sweden, one study compared the results of a vagotomy of 10,000 people who had the surgery to 35,000 who didn’t. And, although the number of people who have developed Parkinson’s between the 2 groups wasn’t much different, there was something interesting. As it turns out, those who had vagotomy were 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
This study offers preliminary evidence that we may have been looking at Parkinson’s disease in the wrong way. By knowing what causes it, medicine can now find new ways to treat it. After delving into research further, science found even more evidence that Parkinson’s may start in the gut. For example, a study from 2016 found a link between the disease and specific gut bacteria.
In simple terms, specific gut bacteria produce chemicals that can clump proteins in the brain associated with the disease. These proteins actually travel from the gut to the brain, which strengthens the link behind the theory. The proteins known as alpha-synuclein clump together in the brain and form thick fibers which can damage the brain tissue. They trigger symptoms seen in Parkinson’s disease patients, which led the doctors to confirm the link.
This intriguing discovery may lead to finding new ways of treating the disease. Hopefully, they will work better than the drugs used now.
Optimizing the Gut Flora May be Key to Mental Disease Prevention
All of these findings mean one thing – that our gut flora may be more important for our health than we previously thought. So, optimizing your gut flora can actually prevent a variety of diseases and conditions. This can be done by including cultured and fermented foods into your diet. It’s a cheap and easy way to positively impact your gut microbiome and optimize your health.
We suggest adding kefir, turnips, eggplants, pickles, squash, carrots, cabbage, and onions to your diet. You should also stay away from GMO foods and focus on organic meat in order to keep your gut in perfect order and prevent a variety of mental disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.