The gut-brain connection: hype or hope?

The relationship between gut microbes and mental health has a long history. Although scientists still do not know the exact mechanisms involved in how gut microbes shape mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, emerging studies suggest that choosing a well-balanced diet is not only good for your waistline but could boost your mood. That means that by choosing a diet higher in fruit, vegetables and fish, you might be able to increase your chances of warding off mental health conditions such as depression.

In addition, specific probiotic bacteria have been shown to impact brain functions, leading to the concept of psychobiotics, which include probiotics and prebiotics, along with other means of influencing the microbiome for the benefit of mental health.


What do advances in gut-microbiota-brain axis research mean for managing mental health disorders and people’s daily lives?

Over the last decade, scientists have significantly increased their knowledge around how gut bacteria communicate with the brain in terms of their contribution to psychiatric disorders, as well as the role of the brain in abdominal pain and altered bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea).

The gut microbiota of patients with anxiety and depression differs from those of healthy individuals. On transferring such fecal microbiota to germ-free mice, their symptoms resemble anxiety and depression, suggesting a causal role for gut microbes in those common mental health disorders.

Despite promising recent advances in leveraging the gut microbiome to tackle psychiatric disorders, we are not at the stage of being able to use such advances in our everyday life. The good news, however, is that through our understanding that the gut is an important driver of mental health, treatments that target the gut microbiome could help improve brain and mental health and predict which patients will respond better to medical and nutritional interventions.

In this interview on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of GMFH, Dr. Premysl Bercik, a gastroenterologist and researcher at McMaster University (Canada), tells us a little more about whether and how what we eat can affect brain and mental health via its effects on the gut microbiome.



Have you seen our previous interviews with our experts? If not, make sure you don’t miss them!


Stay tuned for upcoming video interviews with members of the GMFH Board of Experts and don’t forget to join the conversation on Twitter (Twitter @GMFHx, Twitter @GutmicrobiotaWW) using the hashtag #GMFH10years.