Almost a century ago, a few isolated and long-ignored studies indicated a link between diet and mental health. Fast forward a hundred years, and gut health is once again being examined as a pathway for treating mental health issues. Now there is new evidence that the bacteria in our gut could be an essential link between how we feel and the food we eat. Of all the myriad ways gut health affects our physical health, the ways it may influence the brain could be the most provocative.
The Connection Between Gut Inflammation and Mental Health
But how can the gut-brain axis (GBA) affect our mental health? The gut influences so many activities in our body and brain that it is sometimes called the second brain. And there is evidence that the gut and its microbiome play a role in how we feel.
If the gut is not functioning correctly, its communication with the brain suffers. There is growing evidence that our mental health suffers as well. Many studies indicate that immune system dysregulation, inflammation, and high levels of cytokines are present in people with bipolar disorder and/or depression.
The gut microbiome is home to both good and bad bacteria. Bacteria live in balance, slightly in favor of the good bacteria that keep the harmful bacteria in check. Inflammation and lack of bacterial diversity are can both lead to excess unhealthy bacteria.
Mental Health and the Microbiome
The gut microbiome connection to mental health is a hot topic, especially in terms of developing microbiome-based therapies. We already know that balancing your gut can help reduce anxiety. Current research indicates a possible connection between schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other neurological or psychological problems and the gut microbiome.
Researchers speculate that an imbalance or disruption of the gut microbiome’s normal bacteria balance may contribute to gut inflammation and affect our physical and mental health.
The Microbiome as a Therapeutic Target
This could be good news for people suffering from mental health issues. Most of the studies examining the GBA and the use of probiotics to reduce the symptoms of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar are preliminary.
We need more research to understand the gut microbiome’s role and how it influences brain function and mental health. This research could lead to determining which mental health disorders may benefit from probiotic treatment and how those treatments should be used.