Dr. Emeran Mayer, from UCLA, has been doing some research into the microbes that live in our digestive tract. He is comparing them to the organisms found in the digestive systems of mice.
What he is finding has promise for new treatments for a wide array of ailments, from psychiatric problems like bipolar and anxiety disorders to autism. Mayer believes that the bacteria in our gut may affect the development of our brains as we grow and develop, with consequences for our brain function and health.
His sample size is small so far, about sixty volunteers, and involves MRIs and comparisons between the populations of bacteria found in the subjects.
Other scientists, including Stephen Collins of McMaster University, have found that altering the types of bacteria in mouse digestive tracts does seem to affect both brain chemistry and behavior. Anxious mice have different bacterial populations than calm mice. If some of the microbes are moved from an anxious mouse to a calm mouse, the calm mouse displays more anxiety. This works the other way, too. Calm mouse bacteria can help calm an anxious mouse. The researchers also tried feeding probiotics to the mice with similar results.
At this point, the evidence suggests that the bacteria produce neurotransmitters that communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the abdomen and is large. If this nerve is cut in a mouse, the effects of the bacteria in the digestive tract on brain chemistry ends.
Resources for more study:
Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds
by Rob Stein
November 18, 2013 3:07 AM