How Gut Bacteria can Support Stress Levels
The phrase, “Listen to your gut,” “Rely on your gut,” or “Going with your gut,” may not be as much of a misnomer as it sounds. Recent discoveries are starting to prove that anxiety, fears, and stress are not just in your head, and maybe you should rely on your gut, in the most literal sense of the word.
Gut bacteria may be able to help lower your stress levels. In a recent study evidence indicates gut microbiome, or the ecological community of microorganisms, has an effect on brain function, and altering gut bacteria can change stress and anxiety-like behaviors.
Although it is commonly accepted that the gut acts as a second nervous system, and can function without input from the brain, they are still connected, and changes in either the gut or the brain can impact the other.
Within the gut are trillions of microorganisms and bacteria. These play a role in many of our biological processes, such as supplying nutrients, breaking down indigestible compounds, and defending against pathogenic microbes.
According to recent studies, bacterial composition is correlated with several neurological disorders, and has a special tie to anxiety. Two research teams discovered that eliminating gut bacteria from mice changed their anxiety levels. The mice without bacteria were found to have significantly less anxiety and anxiety-associated behaviors than mice with normal intestinal microbes.
Gut Bacteria Effect on DNA
Why is this? While research is not completely clear, the idea is gut bacteria can influence the activation of genes for brain function. Specifically genes used for regulation neuron survival and signaling, and the genes that encode for receptors that bind neurotransmitters. In bacteria free mice, the neurotransmitters were changed, for example serotonin is altered within regions of the brain associated with motor control and anxiety. The suggestion being that gut bacteria has some influence on DNA transcription.
The question remains: Are there specific bacteria that are more important for neural function than others? And how can this help humans?
Research is being done, and the results are indicating that yes, certain bacteria are more important for neural function than others. Tests showed mice treated with a common probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus had reduced stress hormones. This same bacterium was shown to influence GABA, the primary central nervous system inhibitory neurotrasmitter involve in regulating processes, and shown to be associated with anxiety and depression. This suggests particular probiotic helps to normalize GABA in the brain and consequently reduce stress.
While there is still a lot to be discovered before gut bacteria are a viable treatment option for mood disorders, it is important to note that taking probiotics may be able to help reduce your stress. As the one thing that is clear is gut bacteria does play a role in brain function, including stress and anxiety.