By Andreea Mihaescu

From Gut to Brain: science links the microbiome with emotional health

The relationship between our emotions and gut health is a rapidly expanding area of research. Often referred to as the "second brain", the gut holds a complex network of neurons and trillions of microbes that communicate bidirectionally with the central nervous system (CNS). Recent studies have investigated how the gut-brain axis influences the regulation of our emotional well-being and, highlight how our emotions and the strategies we use to regulate them can profoundly impact gut microbiota - suggesting a complex relation that affects both mental and physical health.

The gut-brain axis comprises bidirectional communication pathways linking the CNS and the enteric nervous system (ENS). This axis allows the brain and gut to influence each other’s functions through neural, hormonal, and immunological signals. Key components of this system include the vagus nerve, gut microbiota, and various neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are heavily involved in mood regulation and are significantly produced in the gut.

This bidirectional relationship suggests that our mental state can directly influence gut health, and vice versa. A recent study suggests that emotions can significantly affect gut microbiota composition. Positive emotions were associated with a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. In contrast, negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, can disrupt gut microbiota, leading to dysbiosis - a microbial imbalance that results in reduced microbial diversity and an increase in harmful bacteria, that can contribute to gastrointestinal issues and inflammatory responses.

Emotion regulation strategies also play a role in gut health. Cognitive reappraisal, which involves reinterpreting a situation to alter its emotional impact, is generally associated with beneficial health outcomes. Conversely, emotional suppression, the inhibition of emotional responses, has been linked to adverse effects on gut health. Suppression has been found to correlate with lower microbial diversity and exacerbated symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

By understanding and improving this gut-brain connection through diet, lifestyle choices, and emotional regulation, we might as well promote overall well-being

By understanding and improving this gut-brain connection through diet, lifestyle choices, and emotional regulation, we might as well promote overall well-being. Find here our suggested dietary strategies for promoting gut health.

 

References:

Ke S, Guimond A-J, Tworoger SS, Huang T, Chan AT, Liu Y-Y, Kubzansky LD. Gut feelings: associations of emotions and emotion regulation with the gut microbiome in women. Psychological Medicine. 2023;53:7151-7160.

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