As recent research has revealed the impacts of the GI tract on individual health, scientists have found an association between the composition of microorganisms in the gut- otherwise known as the microbiome- and mental health. Multiple studies have shown how changes in the gut’s microbiome have impacted changes in
cognitive status and cognitive aging. Our bodies are composed of about 40 trillion bacterial cells that are essential for metabolizing and synthesizing nutrients for our hormonal, immunological, and neural regulation. About 100 million of these bacterial cells compose the enteric nervous systems (ENS), or the “little brain in your gut” that communicates with your brain about the state of your GI tract.
Scientists at the Neurogastroenterology department at John Hopkins have revealed that the ENS triggers emotional shifts in individuals dealing with IBS, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and stomach pain. While mental disorders such as depression and anxiety were previously understood to contribute to the listed problems, recent research reveals that changes or irritation of the microbiome may be sending signals to the central nervous system, triggering emotional responses. The director of the Neurogastroenterology center, Jay Pasricha, notes the significance of this finding as it “may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety.”
Through understanding how our “two brains” communicate with one another, therapies such as anti-depressants and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have been explored in treating digestive conditions. Beyond these therapies, it is crucial to take measures such as reducing stress, exercising regularly, and maintaining a balanced diet to regulate your microbiome.