That’s right, of the trillions of cells that make up your body, only 10% are human. The rest are bacteria, viruses and fungi, collectively dubbed the Microbiome. Most live in your digestive tract. As these “alien” cells are smaller than human cells they weigh about the same as your brain does. This is a creepy coincidence because they seem to act a little like another brain…
Mind Over Microbiome ?
How? By what is known as the Brain-Gut Axis or the Enteric Nervous System. The Enteric Nervous System connects your brain to your gut. It allows your brain to pass commands to your digestive system and, as Science is finding out, it also passes commands from your digestive system to your brain. So much so that your gut is also known as your Second Brain. What’s more, your second brain is made up of non-human cells. Let that sink in for a while!
Most of the research so far is limited to mice studies. But what these studies have found is staggering. Not only do your gut bacteria affect your physical health but there appears to be a link between the make-up of the Microbiome and Mental Health disorders such as Anxiety, Depression, ADHD and even possibly Autism. Simply put, a healthy well-functioning Microbiome sends healthy signals to the brain, an unhealthy Microbiome sends unhealthy signals. This raises exciting new avenues of research into alleviating or curing some Mental Health disorders.
“We may be able to reverse these ailments, if you turn off the faucet that produces this compound, then the symptoms disappear. That’s what we see in the mouse model,”microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian
Happy Bugs, Happy You?
Gut bacteria have been shown to regulate human hormones like Seratonin (the happiness hormone) and Ghrelin (the hunger hormone). As your digestive system produces 95% of Serotonin and 50% of Dopamine, a “feel-good” hormone, our happiness and hunger levels are literally in their tentacles! (Technically bacteria have Flagella but I’m a Sci-Fi and Horror fan :-)). Furthermore, as well as signalling hunger, Ghrelin helps regulate the metabolism. It also helps reduce anxiety, helps build muscle mass. And it helps to enhance memory, learning ability and the plasticity of your brain!
The list of diseases that can be affected by a malfunctioning microbiome is truly staggering, from Auto-Immune diseases and Diabetes to Obesity and Cancer.
A study published in Neuroscience found that a diet high in sugar and fat causes changes in gut bacteria which dramatically affects memory and learning ability, at least in mice. The study found that mice on high sugar and high fat diets suffered from a decrease in cognitive flexibility – the ability to switch from one thought to another and react to changes in the environment.
How To Keep Them Happy!
So, feeling freaked out yet? What can we do to appease our Supreme Underlords? Well, diet is key here. Cut down on sugar especially, but don’t switch to artificial sweeteners as they may also be bad for your gut bacteria. Eat fermented foods like probiotic yoghurt. Eat lots and lots of prebiotic fibre found in vegetables and fruit. Avoid processed foods as much as possible.
And never take an antibiotic unless you need to! Antibiotics are over-prescribed often due to the patient’s insistence so listen to your doctor on this one.
Your Second, Alien Brain
Did you know that only 10% of you is human? The rest is your microbiome, the unique collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi. It's your second brain and it has a big say in your mental health!