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Psychobiotics: How gut bacteria mess with your mind

Gut bugs can change the way our brains work, offering new ways to relieve problems like stress, anxiety and depression, say two leading professors

We acquire our intestinal microbes immediately after birth, and live in an important symbiotic relationship with them. There are far more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body, and their weight roughly equals that of your brain. These bacteria have a vast array of genes, capable of producing hundreds if not thousands of chemicals, many of which influence your brain.

How exactly do gut bacteria influence the brain? The mechanisms are becoming clear. The bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is used in dairy products, has potent anti-anxiety effects in animals, and works by changing the expression of GABA receptors in the brain. These changes are mediated by the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and gut. When this nerve is severed no effect on anxiety or on GABA receptors is seen following psychobiotic treatment with L. rhamnosus.

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