Health

How does the gut affect the brain? Role of postbiotics in mental health

How does the gut affect the brain? Role of postbiotics in mental health

Takeaways

  • When nervous or anxious, your body releases some hormones and chemicals that enter the digestive system.
  • Postbiotics play a crucial role in supporting mental health through several mechanisms. 

Every day we have situations in which we feel our gut. If it’s something exciting you can feel “butterflies in your stomach” or there’s something dreadful that might be “gut-wrenching”. Sometimes it’s your “gut feeling”. These sensations are there because the brain and the gut are connected. In recent years, the connection between the gut and the brain has emerged as a fascinating and crucial aspect of overall well-being. There are many ways in which your gut influences your health. This blog explores one of them called the gut-brain axis, how it affects your mental health and the role of postbiotics in this connection.

What is the gut-brain axis?

The gut-brain axis (GBA) is bidirectional communication between the nervous system and the gastrointestinal system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. This means signals are both sent from the brain to the stomach, and from the stomach to the brain. The gastrointestinal system is governed by the enteric nervous system, which is a part of the nervous system that controls the gastrointestinal tract independently of the brain. (1)

Your brain communicates with all of your body through nerves (your nervous system). But your brain and your gut are more connected than any other part of your body. There are more nerve cells in your gut than anywhere else outside of your brain and more information passes between your brain and your gut than any other system. This intricate relationship affects various aspects of our health, including mood, stress response, and cognitive function. The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiota, which play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of this axis.

How Does The Microbiota Affect Mental health?

The gut microbiota is a diverse community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes residing in the digestive tract. These microorganisms contribute to digestion, nutrient absorption, and the synthesis of essential vitamins. Moreover, they actively participate in the regulation of immune function and protection against harmful pathogens. (2)

These microbes are important to keep all the processes running smoothly, including the gut-brain axis. They can produce many chemical neurotransmitters that convey messages between your gut and brain or the chemicals that can affect your brain through your bloodstream. Your brain and gut, in turn, can affect your gut microbiome by altering its environment.

Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might have stomach problems as one of the most common symptoms of stress and anxiety. Researchers have identified that psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract. (3)

That means when nervous or anxious, your body releases some hormones and chemicals that enter the digestive system. This can affect the microorganisms that live along your gut, helping in the digestion process while decreasing antibody production. The resulting chemical imbalance can cause several gastrointestinal conditions. Considering the gut-brain axis goes both ways, an imbalanced gut can cause symptoms of disorders like anxiety and depression to get worse. (4)

How do postbiotics support mental health?

Understanding and maintaining a healthy gut microbiota balance is crucial for mental health. There are other ways to keep your gut healthy like eating enough fibers, but to improve your overall well-being,  daily use of postbiotics makes a great difference.

Postbiotics, the metabolic byproducts of probiotic microorganisms, play a crucial role in supporting mental health through several mechanisms.

Clinical studies that try to understand the gut–brain axis show postbiotics can be a new approach at preventing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Daily use of postbiotics can change your microbiota composition which reduces the symptoms and maintains the desirable mood state. Research has found that chronic inflammation has been linked to various mental health conditions, and by reducing inflammation, postbiotics may contribute to a more stable and supportive environment for the brain.

They can also influence the production and balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. So while they are balancing your microbiota they also contribute to the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play key roles in regulating mood and emotional well-being.

Additionally, postbiotics may have a positive impact on the body's stress response system, helping to modulate the release of stress hormones like cortisol. This regulation of the stress response can contribute to improved resilience and a reduction in the negative effects of chronic stress on mental health. (5)

Conclusion

By understanding different relationships our body systems have, we can find innovative and better approaches to support our health. In this blog we found out more about gut-brain connection and how our gut health has a greater impact on our mental health. Postbiotics, with their diverse benefits on gut health and subsequent impact on the brain, can be a new approach in improving our mental well-being.

References

  1. Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: Interactions between enteric microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems. Annals of gastroenterology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209
  2. Cresci, Gail A.M., and Kristin Izzo. “Gut Microbiome.” Adult Short Bowel Syndrome, 2019, pp. 45–54, doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-814330-8.00004-4.
  3. The gut-brain connection. Harvard Health. (2023, July 18). https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
  4. Berding, K., Vlckova, K., Marx, W., Schellekens, H., Stanton, C., Clarke, G., Jacka, F., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2021). Diet and the microbiota–gut–brain axis: Sowing the seeds of good mental health. Advances in Nutrition, 12(4), 1239–1285. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa181
  5. Chudzik, A., Orzyłowska, A., Rola, R., & Stanisz, G. J. (2021). Probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics on mitigation of depression symptoms: Modulation of the brain–gut–microbiome axis. Biomolecules, 11(7), 1000. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom11071000

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