The stomach is sometimes called the “second brain” because it contains its own nervous system and more than 100 million nerve endings. The gut and its billions of bacteria (also known as the gut microbiome) are thought to have an important effect on mental health. But why? Is there a connection between gut health and happiness?
Research has shown that there is a symbiotic relationship between the brain and the digestive system. In fact, there is an important biochemical communication loop between the two which is known as the gut-brain axis. This pathway allows two-way communication between the two organs so the brain can influence digestive activities and vice versa. In other words, the brain’s activity influences the stomach and likewise, the gut plays a key role in certain brain functions, including the regulation of moods.
This means that having a healthy gut that contains an abundance of diverse microorganisms can have a positive impact on mental health. And likewise, someone who has poor gut health due to probiotic deficiency is more likely to have mental health concerns.
The human body relies on neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine ( two of the happiness hormones) to relay signals from one part of the brain to the other and to send messages between the brain and the body. These chemicals are essential for the proper function of key biological processes.
Researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium found that most microorganisms in the belly produce many of the important neurotransmitters needed for good health including the mood-enhancing biochemicals we refer to as the happiness hormones. In fact, the microorganisms in the gut are thought to produce about 95% of the body’s serotonin supply!
The hormone serotonin plays an important role in stabilizing mood, and stimulating feelings of happiness and well-being. Serotonin also affects the cardiovascular and endocrine systems and regulates functions such as sleep, memory, appetite, and learning, among others. Those with insufficient levels of serotonin may become depressed or anxious, and may have trouble sleeping.
Another happiness hormone, dopamine, also regulates moods and feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation. This neurochemical also influences motor control, digestion, heart and kidney function, decision making, and executive functioning, and more. When dopamine levels in the body are too low, you might feel less motivated to complete a project or not be able to enjoy an activity that once was pleasurable. Drastically low dopamine levels can cause serious disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or schizophrenia.
Both serotonin and dopamine are considered happiness hormones because their release from the brain allows us to feel pleasurable feelings we associate with happiness such as wellbeing, contentment, and satisfaction.
Is there a relationship between serotonin and gut health? A relationship between gut health and mental health is recognized, but there is no research specifically on serotonin and gut health in humans. However, it would seem likely that an unhealthy gut might struggle to produce sufficient levels of neurochemicals needed by the body. We anticipate more research in this area in the future.
Because these important neurotransmitters are produced in the brain and gut, and they enable communication via the gut-brain axis, scientists recognize a relationship between beneficial microorganisms (a.k.a. probiotics) and mental health. We need a healthy balance of probiotics in the gut not only to maintain healthy digestion, a strong immune system, and clear skin but also to maintain strong mental health as well.
Our digestive system contains billions of both beneficial and harmful microbes including bacterias, yeasts, and fungi. As long as there is an appropriate ratio between the good and bad organisms, the microbiome remains balanced and good health persists. However if dysbiosis occurs and the harmful organisms in the gut no longer remain in check, this can lead to a weakened immune system, digestive upset, and mental health concerns, among other problems.
To restore balance when the gut microbiome has been disrupted by poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, illness, medications, or other causes, we must add probiotics back into the mix. One way to replace beneficial bacteria to the gut is to eat probiotic-rich foods. Some examples include fermented dairy products (kefir, yogurt), fermented soybean products (miso, tempeh, natto) and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles.
If restoring balance to the microbiome is the goal, it’s important to get a wide variety of microorganisms. This can be difficult to accomplish through diet, particularly if fermented items are not high on your list of favorite foods. And remember that to receive benefits from probiotic foods, they must contain live microorganisms. Unfortunately, the pasteurization process in food production usually kills the probiotics in foods, so do your homework.
A simpler way to get the probiotics needed to keep harmful bacteria in check and promote optimal brain health is to take a probiotic supplement instead. A single supplement, such as Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics can restore a diverse assortment of beneficial organisms to the gut to help restore the appropriate balance in the microbiome.
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Everyone’s microbiome is different. You should not expect to experience benefits from taking a mood-boosting probiotic within a certain time frame. Some people might notice an improvement in mood and/or overall health after a few days of taking a probiotic supplement. Others may not see an improvement until they have been taking a supplement for several months.
Research has not yet proven there to be a direct correlation between the use of supplemental probiotics and neurotransmitters like dopamine or serotonin in humans. Laboratory research has shown that L. plantarum increases serotonin and dopamine levels in mice and reduces their anxious behavior. A research study also found that L. plantarum increased serotonin and dopamine levels in mice and reduced their anxious behavior.
A good portion of the body’s neurotransmitters are produced in the gut microbiome. A gut that is unhealthy and out of balance may struggle to produce neurotransmitters while a healthy gut with a diverse population of microorganisms will be better able to perform this function.
A study published in Nature Microbiology found that those suffering with depression lacked two distinct organisms in the microbiome: Coprococcus and Dialister. The researchers are careful to say this one study does not prove that being deficient in these organisms causes depression. More research is needed to determine what if any role these two organisms play in mood regulation and the creation of neurotransmitters; however it appears more discoveries may be ahead concerning the relationship between probiotics and neurotransmitters.
The volume of data that supports the relationship between a healthy microbiome and better mental health continues to grow. We recognize the important relationship between gut health and the production of essential neurotransmitters. While we don’t yet have any research that clearly ties an increase of specific happiness hormones to probiotic-rich foods or supplements, a breakthrough in this area appears to be on the horizon.
So, can probiotics make you happy? While research is still inconclusive, there are many people who add probiotics to their diets and see a difference. In fact, many, many people enjoy better health after adding a probiotic supplement to their diet. Experiencing a reduction in gas, bloating, fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms that go with an unhealthy gut will likely make a person feel happier, don’t you think?
If you have been thinking about adding a probiotic supplement to your routine, Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics are an excellent choice. Dr. Ohhira’s supplements are the only probiotics fermented for three years using only all-natural ingredients like fruits, vegetables, pure spring water, and seaweed. And they are non-GMO and 100% vegetarian.
For a probiotic supplement that supports full body physical and mental health, try Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics today.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.