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How the Microbes Living in Your Gut Might Be Making You Anxious or Depressed

Researchers have made some surprising findings.

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More recently, an article centered on microbes’ abilities to produce neurochemicals that are identical in structure to those produced by the host (i.e. humans). Could it be that the bacteria in our gut are producing neurochemicals that change our behavior, emotions, and mood?

Studies on this subject continue, such as a 2013 study which found that probiotics reduced the amount of stress hormones mice produced when subjected to chronic stress.

“Personally,” Bercik reflects, “I think there are multiple pathways by which the microbiota can impact the brain. It can be immune mediated. There can be direct interaction with the neural cells within the gut. And probably then it’s also production of different metabolites,” such as the bacteria’s ability to produce neurochemicals.

“I suspect each different bacterium will have a slightly different pathways or slightly different mechanism,” he concludes, making it clear that we do not have the answers just yet. “We are just at the beginning. We are just scraping the surface. And probably in the next five to 10 years we will discover how the bacteria can modulate our well-being and probably an important role will be played by the diet.”

So, I asked him, it’s too early to tell people to eat yogurt if they want to feel better? “I think we are not there yet,” he responds, adding, “I like yogurt so it makes me feel better because I like the taste.. But I think for therapeutic applications of bacteria, we will have to wait for a few years.”

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of "Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It."