What determines our personality? It turns out the bacteria in our guts might be instrumental in shaping who we are, what we think and how we feel. This sure takes having a “gut feeling” to a new level.
A large human study led by Dr. Katerina Johnson of Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, discovered that our gut microbiome’s diversity and proliferation are connected to our behavior.
Stool samples were collected from over 600 adult participants (with an average age of 42, 71% women, 29% men). Researchers examined specific rRNA gene sequencing to evaluate bacteria as well as a questionnaire for participants regarding their behavior, lifestyle and social habits.
Participants found to have larger gut microbiomes were more social than those with sparse microbiomes, so socializing and having a large circle of friends and encounters with other humans plays a role in diversifying one’s microbiome. A more diverse microbiome is linked with better health outcomes as well as a reduction in depression and anxiety.
Interestingly, participants who reported having higher stress and anxiety also had less microbiome diversity. Lower diversity was also associated with adults who were bottle fed as babies; Adults who were breastfed as children had greater microbiome diversity, showing that the nutrition we receive as infants is relevant to long term gut health.
Participants in the study who traveled internationally and sampled foods across multi-ethnicities and cultures also had more microbial diversity. Those on a dairy-free diet had lower diversity, as well. Not surprisingly, those who reported regularly eating foods high in natural prebiotics and probiotics such as kombucha, kimchi, legumes and bananas had greater microbiome diversity than those who ate a standard American diet.
The link between nervousness, irritability, depression and anxiety is also connected to one’s microbiome, according to a European study with 1000 participants. Those in the study with higher reports of depressive episodes were deficient in two specific bacterial strains. Other research has shown an association between brain disorders such as autism and Parkinson’s with gut issues. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Leaky Gut and chronic constipation are common with these neurological disorders.
Microbes are instrumental in chain reactions in the body that influence neurotransmitters and hormones. Some gut bacteria, for example, help to create tryptophan in the body and work alongside our own cells to convert tryptophan into serotonin, which naturally reduces depression and anxiety and helps the body and mind to relax and sleep.
Imbalance and miscommunication among the gut micro-community, however, may impact this conversion cause of depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. Tryptophan inadvertently can be converted into kynurenine, a compound that when broken down, is toxic to nerve cells, resulting in inflammation. This inflammation could contribute to mental disorders and other neurological issues.
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