Quick Links: Are Our Guts Running the Show?

"Here, let me unbutton my jeans so you can better see my stomach."

Apparently, researchers are zeroing in on the idea that our gut flora might be responsible for some of our behavior (see Scientific American’s run-down here).

This stuff is mind-blowing to me. I’m especially intrigued to see if the connection to autism bears any fruit. I’d also be curious to see how, if at all, this ties in to the recent discovery that every person on earth has one of three types of intestinal bacteria colonies (see here).

And how exactly are these little buggers going about influencing our brains?

Although the answer is unclear, there are several possibilities: the Vagus nerve, for example, connects the gut to the brain…This nerve may be stimulated as well by normal gut microbes, and serve as the link between them and the brain. Alternatively, those microbes may modulate the release of chemical signals by the gut into the bloodstream which ultimately reach the brain.

But, due to my n=1 experiments with Paleo-style eating, I have to humbly disagree with this:

Pettersson’s team next asked whether the influence of gut microbes on the brain was reversible and, since the gut is colonized by microbes soon after birth, whether there was evidence that gut microbes influenced the development of the brain. They found that colonizing an adult germ-free animal with normal gut bacteria had no effect on their behavior. However, if germ free animals were colonized early in life, these effects could be reversed. This suggests that there is a critical period in the development of the brain when the bacteria are influential.

As you may have read previously, I had moderate anxiety that has been about 80% erased since going Primal. I recently flew across several states and had several dinner guests on multiple evenings—both situations that would’ve sent me into temporary tizzies—and barely registered that anything was out of the ordinary. My husband has even taken notice of his much calmer wife. So perhaps it isn’t reversible, but maybe by feeding our flora different foods, they either behave differently or the balance of microbes is different. Something in there is signaling differently.

I remember when I was learning about cell biology and the theory that mitochondria began as some sort of endosymbiotic prokaryote (literally, a unicellular, non-nucleated organism that lives within the cells of another). This was baffling to me, that something so basic to human life could be the result of some relationship with bacteria. So it makes sense to me now, that if these gut bacteria evolved with us over millions of years, that they either may not have had time or may never have the ability to adjust to our modern diet, particularly the garbage we’ve been calling food for the last century. Perhaps understanding what lives within our guts can provide answers for what foods are optimal for us on an individual level.

Fascinating…

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