The gut and brain seem to be unrelated organs that have very different effects on our health, but in recent years, scientists have discovered that the two are in fact connected through the gut-brain axis (GBA) to influence our emotions, anxiety, and depression. Gut bacteria play an important role in human health including human behaviour, and cognition, so it is no surprise the intestines have earned the moniker " the second brain". The latest research results from the University of California suggests that people with diverse gut microbes possess higher intelligence and lower feelings of loneliness.
The human gut microbiota consists of trillions of microorganisms (including bacteria, viruses, and fungi). The gastrointestinal (GI) tract has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is made up of 100 million neurons embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system, and can operate independently of the brain and the spinal cord.
A study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine showed that the “microbiota-gut-brain-axis” involves bi-directional signaling between the gastrointestinal and central nervous systems and is regulated at neural, hormonal, and immunological levels. Alterations of these systems can result in disruptions of stress-response and behaviour, from emotional arousal, affective behaviour, and motivation, to higher-order cognitive functions such as decision-making
Gut microbes have in the past been linked to mental health, and recent research has revealed that social behaviour and interactions can affect the composition of the gut microbiota. People with larger social networks, for instance, tend to have more diverse gut microbiotas.
The study comprised of 187 people between the ages of 28 and 97 who were required to complete validated self-assessment of loneliness, wisdom, compassion, social support, and social engagement. Faecal samples were collected and profiled using 16S rRNA sequencing. Results revealed that lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of wisdom, compassion, social support, and social engagement were associated with greater phylogenetic richness and diversity of the gut microbiome.
Dr. Tanya T. Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, admitted that the mechanisms to gut microbial diversity is unknown. However, it is typically believed that reduced alpha-diversity represents worse physical and mental health, since low microbial diversity has been associated with various diseases, such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and major depressive disorder.
The research topic is "Association of loneliness and wisdom with gut microbial diversity and composition: an exploratory study", published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychiatry in March this year
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Nguyen TT, Zhang X, Wu TC, Liu J,Le C, Tu XM, Knight R and Jeste DV(2021) Association of Loneliness andWisdom With Gut Microbial Diversityand Composition: An ExploratoryStudy. Front. Psychiatry 12:648475.doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.648475