how your diet shapes your mind

how your diet shapes your mind

how your diet shapes your mind

The idea that many of our emotions and feelings are related to the gut is ancient. More than 2,000 years ago, the Romans referred to what we describe today as a “gut feeling”. Now, modern science indicates that the gut may actually play a role in mood disorders and our mental health.

The gut is covered with nerve cells known as neurons, cells that transmit signals to other neurons and are also critical to our brains. Research suggests that this network, known as the enteric nervous system, contains more than 100 million neurons. This complex network of cells in our gut can function independently of the brain and spinal cord and is often referred to as the body’s “second brain”.

And although this “second brain” doesn’t actually do any “thinking”, the gut is much more than just a mechanism for processing and digesting our food. The gut communicates with the brain in several ways and plays a vital role in supplying it with neurochemicals, such as mood-affecting serotonin, among other functions.

In addition to blood flow, one of the main pathways between the two is the vagus nerve, a long bundle of nerve fibers that extend from the brain to the abdomen. “About 80% of the nerve fibers that make up the vagus nerve are signaling in the direction from the gut to the brain, while only 20% are the other way around,” says Dr. Katerina Johnson, a researcher in psychiatry at the University of Oxford. “It highlights how much the brain is a receiver of information from our gut”.

Research development shows that much of this information comes from gut microbes, which respond to a variety of external influences ranging from diet to stress. It is through the actions and composition of these microbes that the gut is thought to play a role in the impact on mental health.

Along with various other factors such as our genes, our diets can play a role in determining how we cope with stress and cope with life’s traumas. Ted Dinan, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at University College Cork, Ireland, points out that both human and animal studies have established links between poor diet and poor mental health.

“In a study from a few years ago, we profiled gut microbes from patients with depression and from healthy subjects and found that there was much less microbial diversity in the gut of individuals with depression,” Dinan says.

“And when we transplanted a depressed patient’s microbiota into a mouse, the mouse’s behavior changed and it developed depressive-like behaviors and more inflamed immunology. While if you do the same thing from a healthy human to a mouse, the animal’s behavior doesn’t change at all. “

One of the reasons diet is important is because the large intestine – a component of the intestine that is relatively densely populated from a microbial point of view – acts like a giant fermentation organ. The microbes within it break down some fibers into various substances, some of which have been linked to positive health outcomes.

Johnson explains how scientists found that patients with depression have less of a particular type of bacteria called bacterioids, which is known to produce an important chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This neurochemistry helps minimize the impact of stress and can therefore help us sleep soundly at night. If the brain does not get enough GABA, this leads to increased anxiety and insomnia.

Related: Kale to kimchi: 12 foods that are good for gut health

A particularly important product for the brain is the amino acid tryptophan. The tryptophan in our diet is broken down – by a group of gut microbes called bifidobacteria – into smaller metabolites that can cross the blood brain barrier. The brain needs a constant supply of tryptophan metabolites, as they are the building blocks of the mood-regulating hormone serotonin. It seems that if we do not have a sufficient abundance of bifidobacteria in our intestines, due to a poor diet, this process will be inhibited, with consequences for our mental health.

“Numerous studies over the past decade have illustrated the importance of tryptophan,” says Dinan. “If you take patients who have recovered from depression and drain their brains on tryptophan, their depression will return in a very short period of time, from a few minutes to a few hours.”

Making sure the right types of bacteria are thriving in your gut seems to be a crucial part of keeping your brain functioning effectively, but because people’s gut is so complex – and so different – scientists are still trying to establish. the exact definition of a healthy microbiome. What we do know for now is that a good diet plays an important role in keeping your gut, and therefore your brain, healthy.

“We know that if someone starts with a good diet and then follows a fast food diet, their microbiota changes rapidly in a very short period of time and the good microbes in the gut tend to get lost or diminish very dramatically,” Dinan says. “There is no doubt that proper diet gives us a good microbiota, which helps us cope with stress more appropriately.”

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