How Gut Microbes Affect Brain Health: What I Learned About Migraines Today

Digestive disorders are one of the major causes of chronic disease.

Poor digestion reduces your ability to absorb nutrients from food. It also depletes your immune system, because 3/4 of your immune response originates in the gut.

The funny thing is, an important part of your digestive process has nothing to do with your own biochemistry: It is controlled by the trillions of microbes living inside your intestines. Some of the microbes are good for you, enhancing digestion and nutrient absorption. Some of the microbes are bad and make you sick. One of the underlying causes of digestive disorders is proliferation of the bad microbes and depletion of the good ones.

Although it makes sense that healthy digestion creates a healthy body, it seems odd that neurological disorders like migraine could be related to the bugs that live in our digestive system.

How Gut Microbes Affect Brain Health

It turns out there is some interesting research that demonstrates how the brain is affected by the microbes that live in your digestive system. This video of Dr. Elaine Hsiao at Caltech presents a nice overview of the studies and their results.

The studies presented by Dr. Hsiao utilize mice raised in a germ-free environment, which are then “re-colonized” with specific microbes to observe the effects on brain health. Using this method, scientists have found that microbes regulate high-level behavior, including appetite, mood, anxiety, learning, and memory.

The video describes studies about four primary mechanisms by which gut microbes can effect brain function:

  1. Stimulating the Vagus nerve, which directly contacts the lining of the intestine and connects to the brain.
  2. Activating the immune system.
  3. Stimulating the gut endocrine system.
  4. Producing metabolites that effect brain function.

The studies demonstrated that specific bacteria significantly reduce the “mouse versions” of depressive behavior, multiple sclerosis, and autism-like lack of communication.

What I Learned About Migraines Today

To me, the most exciting part of this research is that certain species of bacteria are demonstrating specific effects on brain health. Maybe someday soon they will be able to identify a species of bacteria that prevents migraines in mice.

Scientists are discovering the mechanisms behind these effects, and beginning to document the biochemical pathways that link the microbes in the digestive system to the the brain.

What do you think? Do you have any personal experience with digestive disorders effecting your brain health?

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