How Your Gut Microbiome Can Influence Your Stress Levels

Although it was largely unknown and underappreciated for a very long time, the humble gut microbiome has quickly become the hot topic in health and fitness. New research is constantly published to suggest more ways in which the bacteria that inhabit the human digestive tract can influence our overall health and well-being.

Researchers have even found a direct connection between the gut microbiome and levels of certain chemicals that can impact mood and thinking ability. But, how does this actually work?

Stressed Bugs

In truth, the mechanism linking the microbiome with the human brain is not yet fully understood. However, a recent study in mice lends some interesting insight.

For the study, mice were raised in a completely germ-free environment. In fact, these particular animals did not even have a gut microbiome. The behavior of the animals was observed as they matured and the levels of various compounds in the brain were also measured.

The most noticeable change seen was that the bug-free mice showed signs of anxiety and depression, in addition to social and cognitive deficits. But what made the actual difference? Why were these bug-less mice experiencing these difficulties?

As it turns out, these mice had abnormal levels of 134 different chemicals that function inside the brain – both in the prefontal cortex and the amygdala. Again, not all of these compounds are fully understood.

So, how do we know that these abnormal levels are even what’s to blame for the difficulties experienced by the poor experimental mice? Many of the cognitive problems faced by the mice either disappeared or were measurably reduced when – later in life – the scientists supplied the mice with a healthy gut microbiome.

But what about real-world application?

Of course, this study demonstrates the impressive influence that an individual’s microbiome can have on numerous aspects of mental and emotional health. More than that, however, these findings also suggest that something can be done.

Remember, many of the issues were resolved by the reintroduction of a healthy microbiome. So, even if your microbiome is causing the sort of depression and anxiety observed in this study, cultivating a healthy population of bacteria could reduce the severity of your symptoms.

How It’s Done

This study, however, did rely on extremes. After all, the mice went from having absolutely no bacteria to have a specially designed, healthy microbiome. These situations don’t exactly reflect reality.

Instead, an individual is much more likely to have a flawed microbiome and simply needs to patch it up a little. Again, exactly how one can grow a useful culture of gut bugs is still an area of active research.

Still, a diet consisting of whole, fiber-rich foods will provide the nutrients needed to encourage this healthy environment. Probiotic foods – like yogurt – are also any excellent way to directly introduce living cultures of healthy bacteria into your system.