Prompt: Describe how microbial communities in the body could influence brain and mental health states. Then, describe how brain and mental health states could influence microbial communities in the body. In what ways might these promote health and/or disease?
Response: Microbial communities in the body could influence brain and mental health states by way of various alterations to these communities. This is made possible because there is something called the gut-brain axis which is connected by the vagus nerve neurotransmitters, cytokines, and other small molecules. Hence, the two are then directly connected and can be affected by one another. One example is lymphocytes release cytokines, and this is caused by gut microbiota and then makes its way back to the brain systemically. Additionally, there is the more “broad” speculation of how these two could be connected due to an imbalance of the gut microbiome, and if the community isn’t harvesting nutrients very adequately, then the brain will be told that it is hungry more often than if it was functioning properly.
Brain and mental health state can influence microbial communities in the body by release of hormones or neurotransmitters. When a stressful event occurs, there is a release of cortisol and this weakens the gut microbial communities. There have also been studies that show when patients have IBD, they do not respond to stress well because their microbial community is already weakened, and stress does this even more-so.
This could promote general mental health and avoiding disease by trying to really take care of our gut microbiome. The study in the videos this week showed that when a certain probiotic was implemented, the mice became less depressed. Hence, perhaps probiotics could aid those dealing with stress or depression. This could also promote disease by taking antibiotics. As we now know, antibiotics severely alter the gut microbiome. Hence, persistent use of these or constant hospitalization perhaps can lead to depression. It is interesting to think that perhaps cancer patients and chronically ill patients could have psychological effects from an altered gut microbiome in the hospital, and not so much from the mental aspect of actually being in a hospital.