We continue to learn how important microbes in our gut really are – but did you know that, among other things, they may help regulate and control our emotions?
A recent study from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) suggests that a certain selection of gut microbes can help regulate and control the part of our brain associated with mood.
Previously, researchers had found that emotions in rodents depended heavily upon their gut microbes, but the connection had not been shown in humans yet.
This study, however, changes that. The team studied fecal matter from 40 different women, allowing for study of their gut microbiomes. As these were being profiled, the same women were hooked up to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and shown various images of individuals, environments, situations or objects that were designed to provoke emotional responses.
As explained in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, the team found that there were two primary groups of bacteria that appeared to have some effect on the constitution of the brain.
Prevotella, the first of the bacterial groups, was linked with smaller and less active hippocampi, which is the region of the brain related to emotional regulation, consciousness and the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term ones. These women appeared to experience profoundly negative emotions, including those related to distress and anxiety, when viewing negative images.
The second bacterial group, the Bacterioids, were more prevalent in the other 33 women. Consequently, they had a very different type of brain. The frontal cortex and the insula – regions of the brain linked to problem-solving and complex information processing – had more gray matter than the other group of women.
Their hippocampi were also more voluminous and active. These women were far less likely to express a negative emotion in connection with negative imagery as well.
While this is clearly a fascinating link, it is at this point still just correlation – causal mechanisms still need to be discovered and investigated.