How Your Gut Determines Your Mood

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Just a few days before Xmas, SHAPE magazine published a nice article on, “The Surprising Way Your Brain and Gut are Connectedcan your microbiome affect your risk of mental illness? Experts weigh in.” (Dec 21, 2017 – read the full article here).

I was quoted several times in the article, including these comments:

What Is the Gut-Brain Axis?

“The gut-brain axis (GBA) refers to the close link and constant communication between our ‘two brains’: the one that everyone knows about in our head, and the one that we’ve just recently discovered in our gut,” explains Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist. Essentially, the GBA is what links the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with our “second brain,” which consists of the dense, complex network of nerves around the gastrointestinal tract, known as the enteric nervous system, along with the bacteria living in our GI tract, which is also known as the microbiome.

“The microbiome/ENS/gut communicates with the brain through the ‘axis,’ sending signals through a coordinated network of nerves, neurotransmitters, hormones, and immune system cells,” Talbott explains. In other words, there’s a two-way street between your gut and your brain, and the GBA is how they communicate.

Is This Legit?

We know that there’s definitely a connection between the brain and the gut. How exactly that connection works is still somewhat of a working theory. “There isn’t really any debate at this point about the existence of a gut-brain axis,” Talbott says, although he does point out that many physicians didn’t learn about it in school because it’s a relatively recent scientific development. 

According to Talbott, there are still some important things about the gut-brain axis that scientists are trying to figure out. First, they’re not sure how to measure a “good” vs. “bad” gut microbiome status or how exactly to reestablish balance. “At this point, we think that microbiomes might be as individual as fingerprints, but there are some consistent patterns associated with a ‘good’ versus a ‘bad’ balance,” he says.

Secondly, they’re still figuring out which strains of bacteria (aka pre- and probiotics) are most helpful for which issues. “We know that the benefits of probiotics are very ‘strain dependent.’ Some strains are good for depression (like lactobacillus helveticus R0052); some are good for anxiety (like bifidobacterium longum R0175); and some are good for stress (like lactobacillus rhamnosus R0011), while still others are good for constipation or diarrhea or immune support or reducing inflammation or cholesterol or gas,” Talbott says.

In other words, simply taking probiotics, in general, isn’t likely to be that helpful for mental health. Instead, you’d need to take a targeted one, which your doctor may be able to help you select if they’re up on the most recent research. 

Eat more fiber: “It’s the number-one way to improve microbiome balance,” Talbott says. It’s thought that fiber from fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains helps to “feed” the good bacteria and “starve” the bad bacteria, meaning you could get more of the “happy/motivated” signals and fewer of the “inflamed/depressed” signals being sent between your gut and brain, Talbott says.

(Note: Amare’s MentaBiotics product – which I formulated – contains all 3 of the specific “mental wellness” probiotic strains listed above).

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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