Mind Altering Foods and Bacteria

A new scientific school of study into 'psychobiotics' is suggesting that we are as happy and healthy as the food we eat.
The reason seems to be naturally grounded in the fact that we all have different mixes of gut bacteria depending on:
a) which bugs we directly consume, and
b) which types of populations of bugs flourish depending on conditions and the sort of food we eat.

Second Brain

The gut has long been termed the 'second brain' and, let's face it, is often the first target we seek to self-medicate our moods - using either champagne for success or doughnuts when depressed (depending upon your own brand of poison). Champagne contains ethanol, which is a sterilising chemical that kills bacteria, perhaps a necessary evil when the water is dangerous to drink, and chocolate has sugar. Of course, cocoa also contains other known psychoactive ingredients. But both ethanol and sugar in their own right can have a pretty immediate and direct mood altering impact on the brain. Interestingly, sugar like alcohol is also an anti-bacterial preservative, and one substance is the pre-cursor of the other.

Flora Flowerbeds

Needless to say, an intestine fed predominently with alcohol and sugar is unlikely to be the healthiest of places and not many people, no matter how hard they try can happily survive and thrive long-term on that kind of diet. However, a brief decimation of gut bacteria may sometimes be necessary in order to re-establish a healthy population in the gut microbiome, possibly in the same way as an application of weedkiller can help the flowerbeds.

You Have to Listen to Your Friends

The relative levels of types of bacterial populations are in constant flux as the different species, strains and family clans compete for available nutrient within the digester. The dominent populations will be those species that are introduced into conditions of their liking and provided with their choice of nutrient mix. Man and bug have co-evolved in balance and deep down we know what is that our friendly bacteria like, because if they like it - so do we. The one hundred trillion bugs send chemical messages from the intestine directly via the vagus nerve to tell us what they want, they say, "If you look after us, we'll take care of you. Equally, if you do not look after us the consequences may be dire".

Enter the Psychobiotic Revolution

Psychiatrist, Professor Ted Dinan at the University of Cork is referenced in Psychology Today with an explanation as to how "The body is an ecosystem of interdependent parts relaying messages to each other", and how to, "harness the power of microbes to treat depression". Dinan says that the live organisms in the gut that are psychoactive and of potential benefit to those suffering from a variety of psychiatric illnesses should be termed as "psychobiotics".
Our whole attitude to public health could now change as we better understand the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between us and our immediate environs. The starting point is to find out which gut bacteria affect the nervous system and industry has already gone into overdrive to find the perfect bug drink. The trouble is that the vast majority of these products simply do not work because the bacteria are killed the moment they meet our gastric juices.

Bacterial Pharmaceuticals

Researchers are now also looking at the psychoactive compounds that different strains of bacteria produce. For example, it has been found that strains of Lactobacillus secrete GABA, which is a neurotransmitter associated with depression.The polyphenols in chocolate are also a good source of nutrient for Lactobacilli. The bacterium known as Bifidobbacterium infantis produces other neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. A specific strain of Lactobacillus reuteri, increases levels of oxytocin, the hormone that kicks in when you cuddle, hug, or have sex. The sauerkraut bug Lactobacillus acidophilus improves the functioning of cannabinoid receptors in the spine.
The bacterial families including B. infantis and L. reuteri affect the immune system and reduce inflammation, which is a hallmark of depression. Other bugs also influence appetite, sending satiety signals to the brain by increasing levels of the hormone leptin and suppressing ghrelin.
Some of our gut bugs improve mood via direct influence on hormone levels. Others suppress proinflammatory cytokines or lower cortisol.

We Are Bugs

The variety of bugs is also the spice of life. As previously explained in Total Health people with lower gut bug diversity are also more prone to be overweight. This might be specifically because they digest insufficient quantities of the the food substrates required for, say, B. infantis to fluorish?
Clearly this whole field of research is going to grow rapidly and there will be plenty of food for thought. However, it is always important to remember that in the meantime, you are not just feeding yourself - you have to eat for the one hundred trillion...
A group of organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye, which are usually made up of just a single cell. Full medical glossary
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Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in life, combined with a sense of reduced emotional well-being Full medical glossary
A type of neurotransmitter - chemicals that help the communication between nerve cells (neurons). Full medical glossary
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