The Mind-Body Connection is Real
I’m not sure about you, but it seems to me that the state of our healthcare system is in bad shape. Over time, too many diseases have become more prevalent. Obesity is at an all time high, and looks to get worse. What could be causing this? Many people think there are holes in our healthcare system, while others point to our diet as the root cause; but maybe something else is to blame entirely. Could our overall gut health be the reason why so many diseases are striking citizens in higher numbers, year over year?
100 Trillion Microbes
In general, to understand why Americans are so unhealthy, we must look at how our bodies react to our diet and how we process the food we eat. Inside each of our gut microbiomes are over 100 trillion little organisms that help us digest food. These microscopic organisms may have more to do with our overall health than ever though before. We are at the forefront of understanding the role that microbes, also called gut bugs, play in affecting our health. We know that inside our gut, this diverse colony of bacteria (known as the microbiome) serves a wide variety of functional health purposes.
But the question we REALLY want answered is, “How does the gut microbiome interact with our brain and influence our health?”
How do Antibiotics effect our Microbiome?
Before we investigate this and other questions, we must look at how the medical field views disease. We seem to look at illness from a standpoint of – we get sick, then we take medicine or antibiotics to treat the said illness. This is a pretty simple and universally accepted concept across the United States. However, what is making us sick in the first place? Some diseases are chronic and studied by scientists worldwide, yet no true understanding of how the symptoms arose in the first place can be found. These are common diseases such as stomach ulcers, hypertension, or chronic pain. Why is that?
Many People Fear Bacteria
It’s also important to make the distinction that many diseases are acute, meaning they occur suddenly. In this case, there is no real need to find the cause of sickness as it arises quickly and treatment is usually fast. Other diseases are infectious from bacteria and are treated with antibiotics. This type of treatment, while necessary, has led many people to view bacteria as bad altogether. This general thought process, combined with other events such as Covid-19, heightens our sensitivity to infection (rightly so) and bacteria (not so fast). While this may be warranted, we must investigate our treatments of chronic diseases such as obesity or IBS and their relationship to the bacteria that live inside our guts more extensively.
We've Ignored the Gut Brain Connection
Dr. Mayer points out that we have had a mysterious decline in our health over the past 60 years. Obesity related diseases are abundant and projected to rise even more. Also, there has been a staggering rise in the number of people suffering from other chronic diseases, such as depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Have we ignored the role that the gut brain connection plays in how these diseases form in the first place? According to Dr. Mayer the answer is, obviously – yes.
The Machine Model
So how do we process food? Our body is like a machine, right? Food goes in, it goes through our digestive tract, and then we extract the energy that our body needs, and expel the waste. This model is known as the machine model, and it is an older model used to describe how our bodies process food. It’s similar to how a car uses gas as a means of creating energy. However, our bodies are vastly more complex than any automobiles. Our gut can influence our mood and emotions, and it can recognize a single toxic microbe in a large, dense forest of other microbes. That’s pretty incredible!
Ever had that Gut Feeling?
Our gut has amazing capabilities to communicate with our brains. Have you ever had a “gut feeling”? I’m sure you have. Many scientists refer to our gut as the “second brain” because it contains so many nerve cells; there are over 50 million! Our gut communicates with and tells our brains when we are full, feel nauseous, or when we are hungry; but the communication goes deeper than just hunger signals. For example, the gut is home to a vast majority of our immune cells, and is also the largest collection of serotonin in our entire body. Serotonin molecules control many vital functions in our body, but it’s most intriguing that it plays a crucial role in regulating our moods. Since 95% of the serotonin inside our bodies is located in our gut, this means that mood signals in our brains are being controlled by molecules stored in our gut. Coincidence? I think not.
The Human Microbiome Project
Launched in 2007, The Human Microbiome Project aims to identify the microorganisms in our body and the role they play in our health. This effort seemed to help propel much of the research that has gone on in the area of the gut microbiome over the past decade. Discoveries show that our gut is home to over a trillion 100 microbes with over 1000 different bacterial species. Our gut microbiota is made up of over 7 million genes, or 360 times more genes than human genes. This really begs the question, “Are we more microbe than human?” It is apparent that we have a symbiotic give and take relationship with our gut microbiome. As humans, we rely on our gut microorganisms for multiple functions including digestion and immunity function, and in turn they rely on us for survival as their host.
The Mind Gut Balance
When our gut microbiome falls out of balance, meaning there are more bad bacteria inhabiting the space than good bacteria, then our gut enters a state known as dysbiosis. This has been seen in small numbers of patients after having antibiotics administered. A broad spectrum antibiotic treatment can greatly reduce the diversity and number of microorganisms in the gut, and can offset the normal state of the gut flora. This may allow for the invasion of pathogens such as Clostridium difficile, and shows the importance of having a diverse and abundant microbiome. This may also point to the serious nature of antibiotics and how they can negatively offset our symbiosis, and that throws our gut and body balance right off track.
Our Lifestyles have Changed & so have Our Guts
We know that the gut and the brain communicate with one another like a two way street; the gut knows if we are stressed or angry, and our gut may also influence our mental emotions. Does this mean that this relationship between the gut and the brain is a recipe for a healthy mind and mood? The reports of brain disorders, such as autism, have increased over the past few decades. Could this significant rise be at least partially attributed to dietary changes in our microbiota? Our lifestyles and diets have changed a great deal over the past 60 years, and these modifications could be changing our gut microbiomes. Even diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s may be partly attributed to changes in the gut flora.
The Mind Gut Depression Connection
Gut microorganisms have also been linked to depression. Psychiatrists use SSRI drugs like Prozac and Paxil to treat depression because they boost the serotonin signaling system in the brain, the area of the body traditionally thought to control depression. However, through microbiome science we now know that the gut is home to 95% of our serotonin, not the brain. This means there may be a significant opportunity to treat depression with dietary interventions as opposed to just talk therapy or antidepressant drugs.
We are What we EAT
We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat!” From animal experiments, scientists have learned that a lack of gut microbes counteracts the development of these animal brains. Therefore, one can assume that growing up in a germ-free environment can really take a negative toll on brain development. We have seen from experiments that we can take a lean, skinny mouse and perform a fecal transplant and change the eating behavior of the mouse to make it obese. This type of experimentation has also been done with timid mice, changing them to extrovert mice with the same type of procedures. Can our guts really control our weight or mental nature?
Our bodies and minds are extremely complex, yet highly organized. We must better understand the relationship between the mind and the gut to become masters of these connections, and to help ourselves control both our physical and mental well-being.
Join us on this journey and check out the book for yourself! Read along with us if you like. You can then comment and share your views on this book and the subject of the gut and mind connection.