You are what you eat. We all know it’s true to some extent, but if you’re like me, this cliché will always induce an eye-roll. But leave it to science to give credibility to this adage — recent studies indicate that our gut’s microbes directly affect our brains.
UCLA professor Emeran Mayer is currently conducting a study to test the theory that as we grow up, our digestive bacteria may help form our brain structure, which means that gut bacteria would continue to affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors throughout adulthood. Mayer is conducting MRI scans on thousands of volunteer subjects, and is comparing their brains to their guts, particularly gastro-intestinal bacteria. He has only analyzed data from 60 of the volunteers, but has already found indications of a connection.
Mayer’s preliminary results indicate that the connections between different regions of subjects’ brains depend on the kind of bacteria most prominent in their guts. Apparently, we all have a particular species of bacteria that rules over our GI processes, and the specific mix of microbes in our bellies affects the development and wiring of our brain circuits. Mayer is quick to point out, though, that that doesn’t mean changes in behavior are necessarily a result of those microbes. Identifying causal connections and teasing out exactly how they work will take additional research, as well as the analysis of data from the rest of the test subjects.