Living with a 6 year old boy, poo is discussed more in our house than I would personally like. However as we learn more about the connections between our Brain and Gut, the role of bugs and how these can be understood through our poo, may mean that we all need to engage our inner 6 year old !
Hold up- Brain and Gut connection, how does that work?
Research has shown there are many connections between our brain and our gut. In humans, the neurotransmitter Serotonin is found in highest concentrations in our gut. Interestingly, patients with depression have been found to have low levels of serotonin when studied.
So hormones in our gut affect your brain and mood?
It looks that way - AND it's a 2 way street. There is a well known connection between stress and anxiety having an impact on our gut. Patients who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease will often observe an increase or worsening of their symptoms at times of stress or when they are feeling anxious. And we may see it ourselves too even if we don't suffer from these conditions - feeling worried about something often increases those butterflies in the tummy and that can also ‘increase transit time’ ( ahem)
The microbiome - a huge massive gigantic collection of bugs made up bacteria and viruses ( we all know more about these guys #pandemic) exists within our gut. Scientists are discovering amazing things about the microbiome and how this may impact our health. What we know so far is that having a good balance between beneficial bugs in our microbiome versus bad bugs is linked to managing our weight, our mood and mental health and of course, our gut health. Read more about how we increase the good bacteria in our gut here
What does Poo have to do with it?
One way that researchers look at bugs that live within our gut is by studying poo samples ( and you thought your job had yuck moments) Lots of the research done so far has been done on animal studies until ( klaxon sound) now. A study recently published looked at 2 groups of people in Belgium and Holland and studied the bacteria in their poo with relation to quality of life scores and incidence of depression
And did they find anything for their efforts?
YES! 10 types of bugs were found in the samples analysed that correlated with quality of life scores which looked at both mental and physical well being. 7 bugs with complicated latin names were found to correlate higher quality of life scores whereas 3 types (also with complicated latin names) were found to have negative associations.
So what does that matter?
What they discovered with these finding is that there are certain ways that microorganisms interact and break down molecules which have the ability to interact with our nervous system
These findings are just observations rather than proving these types of bacteria cause or prevent symptoms. This research further adds that our brain and belly are in communication by several channels and the bugs in our gut are one way that they talk to each other. There is a chicken and egg scenario here - or as the scientist like to call it- a bidirectional axis of communication between our gut and our brain. This may be why depression and anxiety are often experienced in parallel with stomach problems.
After all that talk of bugs and poo I’m off to wash my hands ( again.)
Dr Clara Russell