You probably don't think about your gut bacteria very often, but you should. Encouraging the growth of the good and decreasing the proliferation of the bad bacteria results in a healthier digestive track and immune system, as well as a faster metabolism and a better mood. All good things, right? So start taking your probiotics if you haven't already, and eat nutrient-dense foods. Your body will definitely thank you.
As if that's not motivation enough for a healthier lifestyle, now scientists are discovering that those tiny cellular organisms living deep in your gut even affect your brain, and thus, the state of your mental health. According to International Business Times, a new study on mice published in the Microbiome Journal discovered the link between gut bacteria and the brain.
Mice were raised in a "microbe-free" environment. After analyzing them, researchers found that they were expressing genes differently, all due to changes in their microRNA. What is microRNA, you ask? It's a small piece of RNA (which is itself very similar to DNA) that prevents the production of certain proteins. The mices' microRNA was altered in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex portions of the brain. In humans, this imbalance of microRNA is connected to certain psychiatric disorders, according to the International Business Times.
"These microRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression," said the study's author, Gerard Clarke of the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork.
Researchers aren't sure just how, exactly, the gut bacteria can affect the brain's microRNA. However, these findings are significant, since treating the brain directly is difficult (due to the blood-brain barrier). So, treating the gut, which indirectly treats the brain, could be more efficient. "This is early-stage research but the possibility of achieving the desired impact on microRNAs in specific brain regions by targeting the gut microbiota – for example by using psychobiotics – is an appealing prospect," said Clarke.