Have you ever had a “gut feeling” about something? Or got butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous? That’s your gut-brain connection! Scientists have identified you have a “second brain” in your gut which is also known as your enteric nervous system (ENS). The second brain communicates directly with your “first brain” and it contains millions of neurons lining your digestive tract. The exact same kind of neurons you have up there in your head!

The Gut-Brain Connection 

The vagus nerve is the primary messenger reverting signals back and forth between your gut and your brain. So it’s not surprising that any issues with the digestive system can affect your mood and vice versa. Your gut produces about 90% of the serotonin in your body – the “happy hormone” that can significantly impact your mood, motivation, and sleeping patterns. Low serotonin has been associated with the onset of depression and even insomnia. It can even affect physical functions in the body such as digestive motility and people with IBS-C often display low levels of serotonin. This has led to even more development in our understanding of the connection between IBS and anxiety/depression as we now know it works both ways.

Why Your Microbiome Matters

But let’s not narrow it down too much – it’s not all about your vagus nerve. Your gut microbiome plays an important role in maintaining its functioning, and the diversity of these microbes has also been linked directly with your state of mind. For this reason, many experts now recommend incorporating probiotics into the treatment of depression and anxiety. 

More research has been done on this in the past 10 years including a 2013 UCLA study which yielded very interesting results. The researchers found that women who ate probiotic-rich yogurt twice daily for four weeks were calmer when exposed to angry and frightened faces in comparison with a control group. This was a task designed to test their emotional response to a visual stimulus based on the results of previous animal studies linking gut changes and affective behaviors. In addition, MRIs of the participants revealed lower activity in the insula which is the area of the brain that processes internal bodily sensations such as those coming from the gut. 

“Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut[…]Our study shows that the gut-brain connection is a two-way street.” – Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, Associate Professor of Medicine UCLA

This connection between gut microbiome and mood has also been recognized in more recent research findings that two specific species of gut bacteria are missing in people suffering from depression, indicating a link between gut bacteria and mood. A microbiologist called Jeroen Raes at the University of Leuven in Belgium took a second look at a group of 1054 Belgians his team had recruited to assess what constitutes a “normal” gut microbiome. The team focused on 173 participants in the group who had been diagnosed with depression or scored low on the quality of life assessment and compared their microbiome with the remaining participants.

The research uncovered that two specific microbe types called Coprococcus and Dialister were missing from the gut microbiome of the participants suffering from low quality of life, but not from the others. The same two species were also missing in the second group of Dutch subjects they assessed. In order to link this microbiome differential with mood, the researchers put together a list of 56 substances required for proper functioning of the nervous system that are produced or broken down by gut microbiomes. In doing so, they found a pathway between Coprococcus and dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter connected with depression (when imbalanced). 

Improving Your Gut Health With Probiotics

So what can you do to stop bad gut health from messing with your mental health? The answer is… a lot!

The first step here is to sort your diet out. In the same manner that an unhealthy gut microbiome can cause anxiety and depression, increasing the healthy bacteria in your gut can improve your mood. It’s a lot easier than you think. Common complaints of the modern diet such as excess sugar, processed foods, and alcohol consumption can allow the harmful bacteria in your gut to thrive and disrupt that essential serotonin production you need for the happy feels! So start by limiting these and add more fruit and vegetables into your diet. 

The second thing you need to do is increase your probiotic intake. There are two particular strains that have been repeatedly shown to decrease depression and anxiety: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You’ll find these in our Advanced Probiotic which also contains added prebiotics and calcium. And you’ll get 30% off with our special reader discount: GutBrain30 for the next few weeks!