Managing mental illness through the gut microbiota and diet - Magaziner

Managing mental illness through the gut microbiota and diet

Managing mental illness through the gut microbiota and diet

At Louisiana State University, specialists in biomedical research write in the medical research journal Biological psychiatry of the explosion of interest in the study of microorganisms inhabiting the gastrointestinal tract (gut microbiota) and their impact on host health and physiology.

The researchers reviewed the accumulating data that suggests that altered communication between gut microbiota and host systems (our bodies) could participate in disorders such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, and autoimmune disorders as well as neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism, anxiety, and major depressive disorders. 1

Research from The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University continues expressing the importance of understanding the gut as an “intersection between neuroscience, microbiology, and psychiatry.”
The research suggests that the gut has the potential to be the focal point of treatment and for “studying the psychobiological underpinnings of mental illness.” 2

THE GUT AND BRAIN TALK TO EACH OTHER – What do they talk about? Digestion, inflammation and diet.
In a study from the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Croatia, (a leading institute for this microbotica research) doctors note the proven existence of bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut and the increasing body of evidence which supports the hypothesis that cognitive and emotional processes are influenced through the brain-gut axis.3

The gut and brain do talk. Our ancestors may have understood this line of communication long ago, old idioms reveal and amazing knowledge of the human body our ancestors had with expressions such as “My gut tells me…”, “My gut reaction…”, “My gut thinking on this … ”

A study lead by doctors at Oxford University entitled: Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. Examined this cross-talk.

Here is a summary of their fascinating findings on how the gut and brain talk to each other.

Gut bacteria produce a range of neurotransmitters through the metabolism of indigestible fibers. These include the following with a very simple and general explanation of its influence

  • dopamine (reward and pleasure)
  • noradrenalin (alertness and sexual arousal)
  • GABA Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (low levels linked to anxiety and issues of chronic pain)
  • serotonin (low levels implicated in depression)
  • acetylcholine (reward and arousal)

The gut produces the neurotransmitters, the neurotransmitters talk to the brain.

Anti-Inflammatory effect through metabolism of Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

The gut talks to the brain through the metabolization of dietary fiber which produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These include acetate, butyrate, lactate, and propionate. SCFAs have been shown to reduce low-grade inflammation. It is suggested that inflammation plays a role in depression. Equally high fat diets have been shown to stimulate SCFA acetate’s role in triggering the likelihood of obesity and inflammation.

The gut produces short-chain fatty acids, the short-chain fatty acids either reduce inflammation and has a positive effect on depression – such as on a high fiber diet – or short-chain fatty acids increases inflammation and its negative effects on depression – such as on a high fat diet. Anti-inflammatory effect – regulation pro-inflammatory cytokine concentrations.

It is suggested that pro-inflammatory cytokine concentrations (the inflammation that makes a disease worse) are capable of increasing the permeability of the blood–brain barrier permitting access to the potentially physically and mentally pathogenic entities. In simplistic terms – the makers of bad thoughts because they can alter and lower levels of serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate (an amino acid involved in mental health).

Strains of probiotics Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have been shown to help reduce the total quantity of pro-inflammatory cytokines, either directly or by increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines.4

For more information on gut microbiota and how it may affect your overall health, mental or physical, please contact us at

1 Bruce-Keller A, Salbaum JM, Berthoud HR. Harnessing Gut Microbes for Mental Health: Getting from Here to There. Biological Psychiatry. 2017 Aug 30.
2 Liu RT. The microbiome as a novel paradigm in studying stress and mental health. American Psychologist. 2017 Oct;72(7):655.
3. Vlainić J, Šuran J, Vlainić T, Vukorep AL. Probiotics as an adjuvant therapy in major depressive disorder. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2016 May 26. [Epub ahead of print]
4 Sarkar A, Lehto SM, Harty S, Dinan TG, Cryan JF, Burnet PWJ. Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. Trends in Neurosciences. 2016;39(11):763-781. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002.

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