The Secret to Brain Health: It All Begins in Your Gut!

For years, Donna Gates has lectured about the abdominal brain, and its relation to the more common known brain in our head. Body Ecology was excited to find science pointing toward a better understanding of this relationship and the importance of a probiotic rich diet.

A recently published study found that the microbes an infant receives at birth and shortly after have the capacity to shape how the brain develops and even behavior later in adult life.

Babies receive important microbes at birth that greatly impact their brain development and behavior as they grow into adults!

The study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) was conducted with mice. Using mice that were germ free and those that were specific pathogen free, meaning that they had the usual array of microbes, scientists determined that germ free mice were more active and less prone to anxiety. Germ free mice had the tendency to roam open spaces and spend more time in lit areas, whereas mice harboring the usual collection of microbes were less active and preferred to hide in dark corners.

Additionally, when germ free mice were exposed early in life to non-pathogenic microbes, they adopted anxiety-like response patterns. However, if exposed later in life and into adulthood, germ free mice remained uninhibited. (1)

The study implies that microbes do more than keep the gut healthy.

The last decade has seen a drastic rise of interest in exactly what role microbes play in human health and wellness therapy. In 2007, the National Institute of Health (NIH) began the Human Microbiome Project, which is an initiative that gathers the DNA of microbes found on various sites of several hundred volunteers.

George Weinstock, who is a part of the NIH effort to catalogue thousands of new microbe species from their DNA, tells us that “we have over 10 times more microbes than human cells in our bodies.” (2) The microbiome is the body of microbes that exists in a human being and has even been referred to as a “forgotten organ.” (3) This is because the vast number of little critters living within each one of us is responsible for a collective metabolic force equal to that of an organ. Body Ecology recommends fermented foods and probiotic beverages to help feed this “forgotten organ”.

The Microbiome: A forgotten organ and still largely a mystery.

The team of researchers that found microbe-carrying mice more anxious than their germ free counterparts have determined that microbes have the ability to influence certain glycoproteins involved in synapse formation that occurs early in life.

They also speculate that the vagus nerve, the nerve through which the gut-brain axis defines its relationship, has something to do with their findings. In other words, communicating across the vagus nerve, the gut microbes can speak to the brain, and the brain can speak to the gut microbes.

Additionally, neurotransmitters within the gastrointestinal tract are believed to also play a role: once germ free mice were exposed to conventional non-pathogenic microbes, there was a 2.8-fold increase in plasma serotonin levels.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the actual document of the study is an observation made towards the end: “It is intriguing that the same neurotransmitter pathway is involved in the regulation of both food intake, bone remodeling, and behavioral brain functions.”

The more that we learn about the human microbiome, the more scientists are inclined to use it as a therapeutic measure.

This past summer, Dr. Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, published a paper that highlighted the ever-widening scope of microbe medicine.

In 2008, he treated a patient suffering from an infection of Colstridium difficile. She had constant diarrhea, was in a wheelchair, wearing diapers, and had lost 60 pounds in an eight-month period. Antibiotics were doing nothing. He decided to place a sample of her husband’s stool mixed with saline solution into her colon. The diarrhea resolved itself in a day, and the infection was completely eradicated.

How a baby is born determines which microbes the newborn harbors.

Upon exiting the sterile environment of the womb, babies are coated with microbes that quickly colonize. Maria Dominguez-Bello, at the University of Puerto Rico, found that infants born vaginally through the birth canal have a different team of microbes than those born Caesarean section. C-section babies are more likely to colonize bacteria found on the skin, such as Staphylococcus, as well as other microbes found in the hospital environment itself. Dominguez-Bello noted that in contrast to C-section babies, infants born vaginally were coated with bacteria lining the vaginal tract, mostly Lactobacillus.

A number of immune-related conditions, such as allergies or antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus infection (MRSA) have been associated with C-section births. (4) Scientists speculate that this is due to the reduced biodiversity of intestinal bacteria. (5)


Understanding the human microbiome and patterns in the system that lead to health or distress is an exciting field for medical practitioners. The trend in standard medical treatment has been to wipe out bacteria, thus creating drug-resistant strains, or to inhibit metabolic pathways and ultimately fight the current of a living organism. Microbe medicine instead gets to the root of a disorder and establishes balance to the many ecosystems that your body contains – remember, for every human cell, there are at least 10 different microbes taking up residence in your body.

  • Fermented foods
  • Probiotic beverages

    1. Heijtza, Rochellys Diaz et al. “Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior.” PNAS. 2011 Jan 31. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/01/26/1010529108.full.pdf+html
    2. Zimmer, Carl. “How Microbes Defend and Define Us.” New York Times: 2010 July 12. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/science/13micro.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1
    3. O’Hara, Ann M. and Fergus Shanahan. “The Gut Flora as a Forgotten Organ.” EMBO Rep. 2006 July; 7(7): 688-693. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1500832/?tool=pmcentrez.
    4. “Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infection Among Healthy Newborns-Chicago and Los Angeles County, 2004.” JAMA. 2006;296(1):36-38. http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/296/1/36.full.
    5. Biasucci G, Benenati B, Morelli L, Bessi E, Boehm G. “Cesarean delivery may affect the early biodiversity of intestinal bacteria.” J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1796S-1800S. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18716189.

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