I've written before about some of the surprising connections between our gut bacteria and our brains. This is an exciting and exploding area of research, as we're just beginning to learn about the myriad ways these tiny foreign invaders can influence our health and even our behavior. In fact, research has even linked gut bacteria to autism. But until recently, researchers weren't at all sure how these bacteria actually managed to communicate with our brains. After all, they aren't actually part of us. Now, new research is investigating the connection between these bacteria and brain metabolites that drive communication. And it shows another reason you should be taking probiotics daily.
The researchers are particularly interested in these connections in infants, but studying infants can easily become ethically and logistically problematic (though you can quickly get more of a fecal sample than you bargained for from a baby). To get around this, the researchers are focusing on piglets, which have some remarkable similarities to babies in terms of their gut and brain development. The researchers have identified bacterial levels in the feces and colons of the piglets and compared them to a variety of compounds found in the blood and the brain.
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Sure enough, higher amounts of different bacteria were associated with increased concentrations of certain brain metabolites. Interestingly, alterations in these metabolites are associated with autism spectrum disorder, indicating that bacteria concentrations could be a key part of the equation. In particular, the bacteria Ruminoccocus was associated with lower levels of both serotonin and cortisol. People with autism spectrum disorder often have abnormalities in their serum levels of both serotonin and cortisol.
Serum cortisol in particular seems to play a key role in communication between Ruminoccocus and another brain metabolite, n-acetylaspartate (NAA). The researchers believe that cortisol may be key to changing the communication pattern between this particular bacterium and the brain. As other researchers have identified that Ruminoccocus has a variety of effects on brain development, the ability to modify this communication could have significant implications for people with a variety of disorders.
More research is necessary, of course, but this study is another important reminder of the influence our gut bacteria have on us. To maintain healthy levels of friendly bacteria, eat plenty of fiber-rich foods and swell their ranks with a high-quality probiotic like Advanced Probiotic Formula.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD