The Mind-Gut Connection – How Your Gut Microbiome Controls Your Behavior
What happens when you get those "gut feelings"
Imagine you’ve just gotten into serious trouble at work. Maybe you sent an email about your boss… to your boss. Eek, that didn’t feel great, did it? If you truly imagine what that would feel like, you may experience that well-known sinking feeling in your gut.
That sensation and other gut-related feelings are the source of so many sayings, such as:
Trust your gut
Butterflies in your stomach
Your gut feeling
The mind-gut connection is more than a collection of phrases though. The microbes that live in your gut actually influence your feelings and behaviors.
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes that directly communicate with your brain along the gut-brain axis, also known as the vagus nerve. We initially thought the brain was doing most of the talking in this relationship, but new gut microbiome research indicates that your microbes are quite chatty.
Your gut microbiome communicates by creating and consuming the majority of your body’s neurotransmitters. For example, you know serotonin, your “happy” neurotransmitter? Over 90% of your body’s serotonin is made by your gut microbiome.1
Your pain tolerance
Your cognitive performance
Your mental health
Research has found that an imbalanced gut ecosystem is associated with brain fog, changes in mood and feeling sad. In fact, new areas of neuroscience are looking from the bottom-up and focusing on how the gut impacts the brain.3
All of these findings and more have earned your gut microbiome the nickname – the second brain. Your second brain has its proverbial hands on every function in your body. As Dr. Martin J. Blaser put it:
“The composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that constitute human health and disease.”4
So, when it comes to improving brain health, a great way to start is by paying attention to the health of your gut. Fortunately, because you’re reading this, you already have a serious advantage...
Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain
What you eat is one of the most important factors influencing your health. The foods you eat are broken down and transformed by your gut microbiome to nourish the rest of your body.
You read that right – it’s your gut microbiome that’s digesting the majority of your food.
You are what you eat – and if you aren’t eating the right foods for a healthy brain (and second brain) then you’re going to feel it. We’ve all experienced times where we felt as though we couldn’t access the full capacity of our brain – this could be due to the gut-brain connection.
Depending on what microbes are inhabiting your gut right now, they can take the food you eat and metabolize it into beneficial compounds or harmful metabolites. Your microbes also neutralize compounds from food, like oxalates from nuts and spinach digestion.
For example, neurotransmitter production in the brain is dependent on specific proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Your brain needs a balanced intake of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins to keep you at your best.5 Folic acid, for instance, is critical for brain function and cognition. Your microbes are responsible for metabolizing your food to keep a steady supply of folic acid flowing to the brain. If microbes aren’t fed properly, their ability to create specific vitamins, like folate, decreases which can impact neurotransmitter synthesis. This leaves your brain struggling to communicate and the dreaded “brain fog” settles in.
Your gut microbiome is unique and dynamic, so to fully know what you’re dealing with and how to modify your microbes for better health – you’ll need advice that’s specific to you. Advice that also tracks your changes over time.
The uniqueness and dynamic nature of your gut microbiome is the reason why one diet doesn’t fit all. It can also be why recommendations can be effective for one person, and completely useless for another.
Probiotics & the Brain
The birth of probiotics was a direct result of the science behind the gut microbiome, but available probiotics are only a piece of the puzzle. You see, we have hundreds of bacterial species in our gut and yet, there are only a few dozen strains available as probiotics today.6
If high microbial diversity and richness are the keys to good gut health, then you can imagine how a few dozen strains simply aren’t enough.
Not to mention our gut microbiomes aren’t just made of bacteria. When we talk about a healthy gut we have to include archaea, fungi, yeast, bacteriophages, parasites, etc. There is much more to the gut than simply “good and bad bacteria” - the microbiome functions as an ecosystem with all organisms impacting the function of one another.
So, when you read about “probiotics for brain health” or the “best probiotics for your mind,” the people making these recommendations have their hearts (or should we say guts!) in the right place – but they haven’t taken this concept to the next level. More research is needed to really understand which microbes, and which combination of microbes, will be most beneficial for your gut-brain connection.
Until then, it’s all about feeding the right microbes the right foods, so they can thrive in the complex ecosystem of your gut. When you’re eating the right nutrients for your microbiome, the health benefits are passed on to your brain.
Viome’s Technology is Ahead of its Time
How can you take control of your gut microbes and make them work in your favor? After all, they’ve been influencing us since the beginning of time – it’s our turn to take control!
The term gut microbiome was only coined in 2001 but it wasn’t until 2007 that the science and understanding of the gut microbiome really took off. By using technology developed for the Human Genome project, scientists began to realize that the gut microbiome isn’t just important to our health – it’s often the source of our health.
Everything begins and ends with the gut microbiome, literally and figuratively.
Before Viome, gut microbiome testing used what’s called 16S sequencing technology. The problem with this technology is it only sees what’s happening on a genus level and it cannot see all the microorganisms calling your gut home, including viruses, because they are too small. Unfortunately, many tests are still using this old technology.
16S sequencing is like looking at a group of people and saying, “Yes! Those are humans.” But it doesn’t tell you what those humans are doing – it’s the activity of the microorganisms in your gut that matters most.
Viome uses a technology called metatranscriptomics, which can see all active microbes down at the strain level. Since Viome sees all active organisms, you get information about what’s going on in your gut right now and how you can make lifestyle changes to improve your health.
When you get your Viome test back, you’re given actionable steps which can be implemented immediately to start optimizing your gut microbiome for a healthier gut-brain connection.
1 Yano, J. et al. (2016). HHS Author Manuscripts. PubMed Central.
2 Borre, Y. et al. (2014). Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. PubMed.gov.
3 Foster, J. et al. (2016). International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. PubMed Central.
4 Blaser, M.J. (2014). The Journal of Clinical Investigation. PubMed Central.
5 Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2010). National Review of Neuroscience. HHS Author Manuscripts. PubMed Central.
6 Thursby, E., et al. (2017). Biochemical Journal. Portland Press Ltd. PubMed Central.