When in love, we get butterflies in our stomach or if the nerves really hit before taking an exam, we might get diarrhea. Our brain and gut are in constant contact as we undergo experiences in our daily lives. The gut, for instance, sends information to the brain about what we eat, if we have enough nutrients to stay healthy or if the immune system is fighting any pathogens. And that communication goes in both directions on a direct highway called the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and the intestine.
Scientists have been studying this complex interchanging of messages—the so-called ‘gut-brain’ axis—for more than 30 years. Recently, however, as GutMicrobiotaforHealth.org contributors science writer Kristina Campbell and researcher Paul Enck from Tübingen University Hospital highlighted in a new article on the Science Trends website, “The picture has become increasingly complex with the gut microbiota as the ‘new kid in town’.”
Kristina Campbell and Professor Paul Enck explain the latest advances in the gut microbiota field
The article by Campbell and Enck focuses on so-called psychobiotics. It is the first of an interesting series covering key research on the gut-brain axis and gut microbiota, providing an excellent way to find out more about this fascinating field, through content that is both scientifically rigorous and clearly understandable for a lay audience.
Gut microbiota, the huge community formed by trillions of microorganisms (“whether rich and diverse or poor and limited”), has been linked to various organs and functions as well as to brain development, at least in mice, explain Campbell and Enck in “Psychobiotics” And The Science Of How Gut Bacteria Can Affect The Human Brain. That is why scientists are considering the idea of manipulating the intestinal ecosystem in order to change brain functions.
“These manipulations could include probiotics or prebiotics or synbiotics, a combination of pro and prebiotics. The term ‘psychobiotics’ was coined to describe how these kinds of interventions could affect the brain,” say the authors.
Some studies have been carried out in animals to investigate the use of psychobiotics. But translating results into humans, say Campbell and Enck, is much more complicated. This is the reason some scientists are trying to take a different approach, investigating microbiota composition in brain-related diseases.
“If neurological or psychiatric disorders could be successfully treated with psychobiotics, we would have evidence that the microbiota was in some way causally related to the disorder,” they say. For now, however, these ‘next generation’ probiotics have a long way to go before they can be used to treat these diseases.
We will continue to share newly published articles by Campbell and Enck with our readers, with the aim of providing a better understanding of this amazing gut-brain connection. So stay tuned to Gut Microbiota for Health.