The super soldiers, also known as commensals (friendly bacteria) in our guts have been attributed to giving us a lot of beneficial effects. From metabolizing certain nutrients to producing vital molecules like Vit-B12, these friendly bacteria also protect us internally by keeping away malicious bacteria that lead to gastrointestinal diseases!
However, one thing that has really been gaining prominence over the years is the impact gut bacteria have on our brain health.
You’ll be astonished by the fact that our gut contains more neurons than our spinal cords (according to a conducted research in the past decade). Our backbone, which combines the spinal cord along with the vertebral column, provides structure and stability to our body, while also carrying information from the brain to all organs via nerve bundles. Some even consider this bundle of 100 million nerve cells to be the second brain! The importance of our gut’s nervous system is evident due to two main nerves: the enteric and vagus nerves respectively. Thanks to these nerves, they keep your hunger, mood, etc. in check. They trigger the brain to release certain neurochemicals or hormones resulting in a special effect. To further explain this in context, depression, a mental illness, is mainly caused due to the lack of serotonin and/or dopamine, which are necessary to trigger the emotions of happiness and pleasure. In certain prolific studies, researchers have even suggested using electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve in order to treat depression. These studies all point in one direction: your gut has a strong bearing on your mood, happiness and mental health.
Now you may wonder as to what role the gut bacteria plays here.
Mental stress occurs due to various factors, involving different stimulants and elicits a different response depending on them. But our brains respond to them in specific ways.
HPA stress response is a Central Nervous System-involved response mechanism to stress that sends ripples of biochemical changes throughout the body and involves the regulation of corticosteroid levels. Probiotics in specific formulations are found to impact this stress response and attenuate or reduce the levels of corticosteroids.
It also contributes to improved mental health in another, but indirect way. Inflammation in the body may also give birth to unwanted stress in the body. Inflammation is basically a heightened immune response wherein immune cells and other pertinent cells start spewing out certain biochemical compounds that regulate the metabolism of the individual cells. This, when done in the absence of a credible threat, will be severely detrimental to mental and overall health as it affects mood, emotions etc. Probiotics and gut microbiota being in direct contact with the immune system, help mediate this by reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (metabolites that cause inflammation) therefore having a profound effect on the CNS and endocrine system which contributes to mental health.