Contributed By: Amber Sullivan UGA Dietetic Student
Most people have experienced the affects that the mind has on the gut. Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach right before giving a big presentation? Have you ever felt queasy when you were nervous? For some time now, the science community has become aware of how our minds influence our gut and vice versa.
Current research has shown that our emotions and mood can impact our gut bacteria. It has been discovered that there might be a link between anxiety and increased food intake (mindless snacking when stressed is a good example of one of the actions that can cause an increase in food intake) (Temko et al., 2017). They’ve also discovered how the same hormones associated with the feelings of fullness are also the same ones that regulate our emotions (Temko et al., 2017). This may suggest that hunger and fullness could play a role in how we feel. Ever heard of being hangry? Have you seen those Snicker’s commercials?
Our emotions can be affected in other ways as well. Serotonin and dopamine, hormones that elicit feelings of happiness, are affected by gut bacteria (Seitz et al., 2019). The amount of serotonin and dopamine we produce are affected by the type and number of bacteria that reside in our gut (Seitz et al., 2019). And to no one’s surprise, this new discovery has only resulted in more questions, like whether or not probiotics and prebiotics can improve anxiety and our overall mood.
Besides our gut's influence on our emotions, there might be a chance that gut bacteria is linked to eating disorders. The current science suggests that the hormones that control our satiety and hunger cues may be affected by the bacteria in our stomachs (Seitz et al., 2019). It has been shown that an increase in stomach bacteria results in more hormones that create feelings of fullness, and a decrease in stomach bacteria results in the opposite (Seitz et al., 2019). Feelings of fullness and hunger can contribute to disordered eating behaviors. Specifically in individuals with bulimia and anorexia, hormones resulting in feelings of hunger are increased (Seitz et al., 2019). This link between the hormones affecting out hunger cues and eating disorders could indicate that disordered eating can affect people's gut health through hormonal interaction or vice versa.
The information about the gut and brain interaction is relatively new, so much more research needs to be done to truly discover the brain's impact on the colon. However, we do know some things about the gut-brain interaction. The data we have suggests that our emotions, stress levels, and anxiety levels can impact our overall gut health and the hormones that control our satiety. As a result, lowering our stress levels, may have a positive effect on not only our gut health, but our overall health as well. Simply put, the mind and gut are deeply intertwined, and we have to take care of both to be our best healthy selves.
Ideas for Lowering Stress:
Temko, J. E., Bouhlal, S., Farokhnia, M., Lee, M. R., Cryan, J. F., & Leggio, L. (2017). The Microbiota, the Gut and the Brain in Eating and Alcohol Use Disorders: A 'Ménage à Trois'?. Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 52(4), 403–413. https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agx024
Seitz, J., Belheouane, M., Schulz, N., Dempfle, A., Baines, J. F., & Herpertz-Dahlmann, B. (2019). The Impact of Starvation on the Microbiome and Gut-Brain Interaction in Anorexia Nervosa. Frontiers in endocrinology, 10, 41. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2019.00041
Raevuori, A., Lukkariniemi, L., Suokas, J. T., Gissler, M., Suvisaari, J. M., & Haukka, J. (2016). Increased use of antimicrobial medication in bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder prior to the eating disorder treatment. The International journal of eating disorders, 49(6), 542–552. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22497
Million, M., Angelakis, E., Maraninchi, M., Henry, M., Giorgi, R., Valero, R., Vialettes, B., & Raoult, D. (2013). Correlation between body mass index and gut concentrations of Lactobacillus reuteri, Bifidobacterium animalis, Methanobrevibacter smithii and Escherichia coli. International journal of obesity (2005), 37(11), 1460–1466. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.20