Chemicals secreted with emotions
Imagine, you have just won a 10$ million or you have just eaten the most delicious, warm, chocolate brownie that has ever been baked!
In these situations, neurotransmitter chemicals are secreted by the brain which gives the feeling of energy, excitement and happiness. And without these chemicals inside us, we would not feel such emotions during these pleasant circumstances.
So instead, imagine these, maybe:
- You have just been fired.
- You are about to sit in the exam or
- You have depression.
In these situations, our brains produce different chemicals making us feel stressed and anxious. The highs and lows of life are controlled by emotions and these chemicals in our brains. Surprisingly, this vital organ inside all of us controls everything that we feel, do and think.
What biologists thought and advancements in discoveries
However, biologists found it strange to grasp that each feeling, thought and action is controlled by a three-pound soggy lump of cells within our heads till they found that this is often not the case.
The thing I am going to share is a fascinating new revelation in the understanding of human physiology, that we each have a second brain! An organ in our body which controls our physical as well as mental functions like the brain in our heads. It is the key link between modern disease epidemics, globally, from obesity to cardiovascular disease and even maybe to mental health.
Throwback to the scientist, Ilya Michnikov
Here is a little introduction to this story. It begins back in 1845 with the birth of a curious young boy in Russia, who became an incredible man but was forgotten by history and medicine. Ilya Mechnikov was fascinated by everything in nature, and by the age of 8, he was taking notes on all the living things in his vibrant garden. He became so good at the science that he discovered the role of phagocytes, some crucial cells in our immune system, for which he won the Nobel prize in 1908.
It was even more crucial to our understanding of human health through a tale of discovery, death and self-experimentation as it was his science after winning the Nobel prize.
Microbiota or microbiome
Every one of us has something in common. We all spent the first 9 months of our existence inside our mothers’ wombs. Isn’t it amazing, no other living things existed there, just you! You were smothered in an invisible coating of microbes from your mothers’ birth canal and these bacteria from the time you emerged into this world grew to form what is now. A 3-pound invisible organ inside your large intestine with the same weight as your brain and which has become known as microbiota or microbiome.
This invisible organ has grown so much, in fact, that right now 90% of the cells in your body are the bacterial cells; only 10% is your own human cells. So by comparing the cells, we are more bacteria than we are human!
This ecosystem in our gut microbes is as diverse as the Amazon rainforest. Thousands of species all with different functions and your health is incredibly dependent on the life and vibrancy of this rainforest.
Functions and effects of Gut Bacteria in the human body
Your gut bacteria digest certain foods, produce essential vitamins and hormones, respond to medicines and infections, control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It means the type of bacteria in your intestines can significantly is a risk of certain diseases, from obesity to diabetes maybe even osteoporosis (a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone). They are involved in just about every process in your body and function as a second brain.
Research by Ilya Michnikov about “deadly cholera”
Ilya Mechnikov figured out this by himself in 1892. He lived in France, Paris at that time where the deadly cholera epidemic broke out with 1000s of deaths. Naturally, as a scientist, he decided the best way to study this, he drank a broth of cholera himself. Remarkably, he did not get sick. So again, he needed to increase his sample size. He conscribed a colleague to do this. This man didn’t get sick either. But when he recruited another colleague to the same, this man gets critically ill and very nearly died.
Mechnikov found that certain species of bacteria from the human intestines supported and stimulated cholera’s growth while other species prevented it by studying cholera under the microscope. He subsequently claimed that the gut microbiota was essential for human health and that the right balance of microbes inside of us could help stave off the disease.
However, popular understanding at that time was that the human gut was a noxious reservoir of toxins. Surgeons have even begun removing the entire sections of human intestines in patients with gut discomfort. Unfortunately, Mechnikov’s death in 1916 meant that his ideas that our gut bacteria were good for us was forgotten.
Nowadays, antibiotics were discovered and drastically became overused. C-sections become common. Diets become westernized. We spent a century trying to kill microbes, which waged a war and turned our intestinal rainforests into barren wastelands.
See, right now, 1 in 3 children are born by C-section, meaning they don’t get this initial inoculum or coating of bacteria that has been designed by evolution to be in the mothers’ birth canal. Rather, they are first coated with other bacteria (in the hospital environment) on the skin which has contributed up to a 25% increased risk of obesity, asthma, immune deficiencies and inflammatory bowel disease in later life.
Fortunately, it was realized that we must restore our relationship with gut microbes for our own physical health. However, yet we still underestimated their role as our second brain.
Scientists experimented a mouse!
Scientists learned through an intriguing story of a mouse. If mice become colonized by the microbe Toxoplasma gondii, a fascinating thing happens, they lose their fear of cats. In fact, they become attracted to cats. So, the microbe ingested by this animal takes control of its brain and changes the way that it thinks and behaves. By delving deep inside the intestinal jungle of bacteria, biologists find some incredible discoveries that are changing the appreciation for bacteria forever.
The connection between the Stomach and Brain
Our stomachs and brains are physically and biochemically connected in a number of ways.
Firstly, the intestines are physically chained to our brain through the vagus nerve which sends signals in both directions. Interestingly, our intestines can still continue to function fully without a connection to the brain, suggesting they have a mind of their own!
Secondly, our brains are made up of a hundred billion neurons which continuously send messages to tell our bodies how to behave and work. Well, it is engrossing, our gut has a hundred million more neurons.
Thirdly, the microbiomes are in the centre of the immune systems, which means that a disturbance down there can cause subtle immune reactions all around the body, which if prolonged, can affect brain health.
Finally, the chocolate-eating and lottery-winning thing demonstrated that the neurotransmitters are these chemicals that can change the behaviour of thinking, feeling and acting.
Most of the neurotransmitters are also produced in our gut, such as serotonin which is naturally an antidepressant. 90% of serotonin is produced in our intestines and less than 10% in the brain.
Research by the APC microbiome Institute of Ireland
In the APC microbiome institute of Ireland, people were fascinated with this link of our stomachs and brains. It is researched that how our modern diets and lifestyles are impacting this gut-brain relationship and how to design interventions to target the microbiota in order to prevent and treat chronic diseases.
The research shows the types of fats that you eat throughout your life can drastically change the types of bacteria that decide to reside in your intestines. In addition, it was shown by feeding specific strains of bacteria, that it can enhance memory, stress behaviour and hormone levels in animals.
Furthermore, a number of other researchers worldwide, identified lists of food that can act as prebiotics, can stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria inside the intestines.
Dietary source of prebiotics
- Whole grains
- Root vegetables
- Green tea, cocoa and red-wine extracts
It’s fascinating that our health is dependent not only upon victualing ourselves but upon alimenting other living microorganisms inside us, it signifies future strategies to target and treats chronic diseases, including brain health.
What should we do?
As humans, we all need to adopt a greater appreciation for the microbes inside us. The incidental war we have waged on bacteria over the last century has led to bacterial extinction and sparked an epidemic of modern plagues. We all have the responsibility and the potential not only to revive Ilya Michnikov’s scientific inventions that were lost in time but also to adopt his desire for a healthy human and microbial life.
Whether it’s by educating ourselves on the perils and benefits of C-sections, restricting nonessential utilization of antibiotic or by adopting a gut-friendly diet and lifestyle. We can all support the life of microbes that we have evolved to live alongside. We can all contribute to this fight worth fighting for our own health, but more importantly, for future generations’ health by restoring the relationship between microbes and man.
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