Whether you're the newbie shuffling files or the CEO who makes Shark Tank look like a petting pool, success demands having a handle on both your mood and behavior. The caveat is, that control might have more to do with the bacteria in your gut than your personality or willpower. That's according to a new study from the University of California Los Angeles, as reported in ScienceDaily.
Different bacteria, different brain structure and response
For the study, researchers used a two-prong approach to examine possible connections between mood and behavior and gut bacteria. One half of the research was collecting and examining fecal matter from 40 women, as bowel movements naturally provide a snapshot of the larger intestinal biome. (I'm guessing this was loads of fun, but hey, you do what you have to for science.) The researchers then used magnetic resonance imaging to look at how the women's brains reacted to images designed to provoke emotional responses.
Seven of the women studied had more of type of bacteria known as Prevotella. These ladies showed more connections between the emotional, attentional and sensory brain regions. Their hippocampi--the part of the brain related to both emotional response and memory--were smaller and less active in response to the provided images, as well. Levels of negative feelings like anxiety were higher after viewing the pictures in the Prevotella group.
By contrast, the remaining 33 women in the study had more of a type of bacteria known as Bacteroides. The women in this group showed more gray matter in the frontal cortex and insula. These brain regions help you process complex information and solve problems. Their hippocampi were larger and more active, too. The women were less likely to experience negative feelings in response to the pictures.
Caring for the gut might also be caring for your mind
Andrews rightly cautions that causal mechanisms between cognition and the gut microbiome aren't clear, and that the study merely proves correlation. But scientists also know that a huge range of factors can affect the gut bacteria you have. Some of these, like the manner in which you're born or your gender, you don't have much of a say about. But you can change the gut microbiome through exercise, antibiotics, diet and even exposing yourself to Fido. That, combined with this research, suggests that you might be able to sway how you feel and act to some degree by consciously regulating your gut health, and that mental wellbeing isn't simply a matter of talking things out.
As researchers keep studying the brain-gut connection, look at the big picture of your lifestyle. If you think your gut and behavior could stand a boost, your doctor and a good nutritionist are a fabulous team to point you in the right direction based on your specific needs.