Category: Science

New Study Shows How Gut Bacteria Affect How You See the World

In a challenge to our narcissism, a new report in the journal Gastroenterology, reveals that our gut bacteria may actually be playing an important role in our emotional responses. Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, associate professor at the Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California recently completed a study in which she performed functional brain imaging studies on 36 healthy women. The participants were divided into three groups. One group received a placebo while another received a milk product, with the third group receiving a milk product which was fermented and contained various probiotics species.

At the beginning of the study each of the participants underwent an fMRI study of the brain which measured both resting brain activity as well as how the brain responded to an emotional event such as seeing pictures of angry or scared people.

There was a dramatic difference after four weeks in how those individuals who received the probiotics milk product responded in terms of their brain activity when challenged by the emotion producing images in comparison to the group that received either the non-fermented milk product or the placebo. Dr. Tillisch, the lead author of the study stated:

This study is unique because it is the first to show an interaction between a probiotic and the brain in humans.

Dr. Cameron Meier, professor of medicine, physiology and psychiatry also at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA commented on the study as reported in Medscape Medical News, stating:

The knowledge that signals are sent from the intestine to the brain and that they can be modulated by dietary changes is likely to lead to an expansion of research aimed at finding new strategies to prevent or treat digestive, mental and neurological disorders.

This is a very important study, revealing that indeed changes in gut bacteria can have a profound role in determining how the brain interprets the environment. It is noted that the gut microorganisms of a laboratory rats can be manipulated, causing that animal to become either timid or aggressive. This line of information has profound implications in terms of our modern diet as well as our generally aggressive over usage of antibiotics. Dietary changes and other events that lead to alterations in the gut bacteria may explain, for example, the increased rates of depression and anxiety and even issues with attention deficit that are also common in modern Western societies.

  • susan henderson

    For the last 15 yrs or more I have been thinking along these lines. It, intuitively, made sense to me that our digestive organs communicate with the brain or not when compromised by gut bacteria, causing us to become depressed, angry or anxious.. I am no scientist but have always thought outside the box. It’s actually common sense logic for me.

  • kc54

    There is much tied into the gut; even rosacea can be attributed to it I’ve been told when the bacteria This was by an integrative medical doc. Methylation issues, and so much more.

  • Patricia Moore

    I wonder how Kombucha, a fermented health drink, influences the gut bacteria — how it alters what is there for people with various types of diets — conventional American, vegetarian, gluten-free, Paleo, etc.

    • David Perlmutter

      Kombucha, like most fermented foods, can play a key role in restoring gut bacterial balance.

      • Bindu

        Thanks a ton dr perlmutter, I am curious as to know what kind of fermenting was used in the study, yogurt/kefir ? I have been making kefir from raw milk for 2 yrs now. Is it possible to get it analyzed for the beneficial strains found in it ?

      • Lynn Dell

        Dr. Perlmutter, at some future point can you do a talk on prebiotics? Which ones do you recommend, etc..

  • Patricia

    So, just HOW did those who received the probiotic milk respond to the emotionally producing images? The article just says they responded dramatically differently but does not explain any further! Were they less affected, more affected. Please explain.

    • freedomdove

      The link to the study is in the first paragraph. In a nutshell, it seems the probiotics have a modulating effect on the brain (which I presume makes it so that people aren’t so emo). They also hypothesize that it can modulate pain and stress response.

  • Nikki Brungard

    Are there any specific, recommended probiotic supplements?

  • Kathy Voshell Bailey

    I take a probiotic supplement, but also take Nexium for Gerd and hiatal hernia. Do you think I can ever get off the Nexium?

    • jean

      I also have a hiatal hernia and GERD. I took Nexium and then Prilosec for over a decade. After experiencing neuropathy that was not caused by diabetes, I did some research into other causes and stumbled upon the gluten issue. After going gluten-free last August, I was able to stop taking Prilosec. I read that long-term use of Nexium and other such medication could prevent the absorption of B vitamins, which can lead to neurological problems. Since going gluten-free, I seldom experience gastro-intestinal distress. I also take a probiotic daily.

      • Kathy Voshell Bailey

        Thanks, Jean! I’m trying to go gluten free too. Hopefully that will help, and with my doctor’s advice (thanks, Dr. Perlmutter) I’ll be able to get off the med too.

    • David Perlmutter

      You will have to consult with your physician on that question Kathy.

      • Jackie Collins Gunn

        What’s DGL? What should I look for in a probiotic? How do I know if the one I buy is a good product?

    • David Perlmutter

      Might want to consider DGL from the health food store and going gluten-free

    • Amanda

      Kathy my husband got off Nexium after cutting gluten

  • Miranda Gilbert

    Can you recommend what steps to take based on this information?

    • freedomdove

      Supplements that have a very high probiotic count (100 billion) can
      be taken on a daily basis. I like Garden of Life’s because they don’t use fillers and it contains a large variety of bacteria (34, to be exact). Make fermented foods/beverages at home if you want to go the whole-foods way (it’s also cheaper). To avoid diarrhea, start consuming them slowly at first if you’ve never had probiotics or fermented foods.

      A good source for starters is Cultures for Health (online vendor). They have milk and water kefir grains and a large variety of different yogurt starters–all in organic milk bases (except the water kefir grains, of course). They also have starters for veggies and for making homemade cheese.

  • Beth M

    I don’t need to study to prove this, I live it! I have been medically ill for 16 years (and hopefully not counting) and without drugs or supplements but just by changing my diet I have gained the “living” back in my life. I only eat food from the Earth – eat from the tree not the factory. And the tree does not have pesticides and the animals that eat from the tree are not given drugs and are free to roam and eat what they were meant to eat. I am now eating kefir, cultured vegetables, and miso. I also eat Injera but I am not sure that probiotic’s still exist after cooking, but it sure tastes good! Change your bacteria and change your life!

  • RL

    Interesting. I was once told that our digestive system/intestinal system is our body’s 2nd brain. Looks like this study is sort of supporting that theory.

    • David Perlmutter

      It certainly is. The gut-brain connection is a strong one.

  • Nothing worked so far

    I’ve taken probiotics from several different companies. Once one bottle is done and nothing changed in my gut, tried different one, and so on and so on. I have IBS-C and megacolon and was told that you should only take probiotics that have always been referigerated. I’ve tried both and see no difference. What makes your brand different from the others, like Metagenics, RenewLife Ultimate Flora, other than the price tag being much higher? Thanks very much.

    • Soul Path Wellness

      I have found that eating milk kefir made from live
      milk kefir grains is more effective than taking a probiotic pill.
      Follow me on Facebook at Soul Path Wellness or at
      http://www.soulpathwellness.com as I just finished filming a video on
      how to make milk kefir and will be posting it this week!

    • freedomdove

      You have to be taking enough to notice a difference. The supplements which contain only 20 million (or even 20 billion) cells aren’t enough unless you take a lot of capsules. I like Garden of Life’s 100 billion supplement (per capsule). It has 34 strains of probiotics. It’s most helpful when dealing with serious illnesses. It’s also very expensive, unfortunately. Making your own fermented foods and beverages is much cheaper.

    • Mary Ellen Ramos

      The article refers to fermented milk products. Yogurt, kefir milk and some cheeses are fermented with specific cultures that work to populate your gut, pills are expensive and they degrade over time. Another great source is fermented vegtables.

    • Paul Sober

      you can make your own probiotics using commercial kefir cultures, such as Lifeway, and molasses and water, or milk. http://amzn.to/27ow3fE

    • jesmmifs

      I strongly suggest making your own milk kefir. It is free, and it is the most probiotic rich food in existence, with about 60 different strains of bacteria. It cured my anxiety.

  • Christine

    I read somewhere that there is tissue in the gut that is functionally similar to brain tissue, and that is why people with abdominal migraines often switch to head migraines later in life (myself included). I wonder if probiotics could work on both.

  • Inexplicable_1

    Thanks Dr. Perlmutter, but the article leaves out the most important information – which group received the benefit. I’m assuming the group who were given probiotics, but that’s not directly apparent. Thanks!

    • freedomdove

      Yes, that’s correct. A link to the study is in the first paragraph of the article.

  • Cass

    The gut is the home of the Enteric Nervous System, which actually produces a good portion of the serotonin in our bodies.

  • dr kim shallcross

    Hello I totally agree with this article, I have been telling my patients for years how brain chemistry affects our perceptions. I correct the body chemistry to help the boby and mind heal itself.

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  • Lynn Dell

    I’d like to further challenge the narcissism that may or may not exist here by stating that for the last 7 days I have not had a store bought probiotic supplement, but have had a half cup of kefir and about 3T Trader Joe’s sauerkraut per day. I have noticed during the day that I have had lessened, or blunted anxiety, and have most definitely slept better at night. A couple nights were attended by vivid dreams.

    The emotional help from probiotics, coupled with eliminating gluten and lowering carbohydrates has greatly helped to reduce food cravings at night. I still have them, but they are much more manageable.

  • BerndV

    Soil based probiotics are the most effective for improving the gut microbiome. A cocktail of Prescript Assist, AOR’s Probiotic 3, and Primal Defense Ultra is perhaps the most potent combination available. Be sure to include resistant starch to feed the bacteria. Unmodified potato starch (Bob’s Red Mill) is the easiest way to get RS without impacting carb count or blood sugar. Good link: humanfoodproject.com

  • Rebeca Randle

    As far as I was informed, (a report I read in one the the myriad Dr. reports) casein has been linked to cancer. Probiotics from coconut milk can be achieved, I am allergic to milk and do not want to drink milk from another species mother anyway. Anyone have anything to share? What about Probiotics or is it that it is “linked” to a food?

  • Justin Kuenstle

    How do I cut the vagus nerve?

  • Pingback: Gut-Brain Connections - Page 2 - Epilepsy Forum()

  • Paul Sober

    kefir is excellent for improving mood and outlook. it has helped me a lot. i make my own water kefir using molasses and kefir bacteria from a commercial brand http://amzn.to/27ow3fE

  • Pingback: Can Probiotics Make You Happier?()

  • jesmmifs

    I have suffered from sever anxiety throughout my entire life. Two months ago I started drinking kefir every day, and now I’m anxiety free. I’ve been trying to convince people to start drinking kefir, but no one believes me. Thanks for this article. I’ll make sure to forward a link to my friends. Maybe they can start relieving me of the huge amount of kefir grains that I now have.

  • joan

    I do think my probiotic makes me feel better. but I am having scary dreams at night. I take my probiotic before bed. Do you think taking it in the morning would stop the dreams.

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