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New Studies Show Gut Bacteria Are “Mind-altering Microorganisms”


Did you know that you have ten times as many bacteria cells in your body as you do human ones? Humans are, for all intents and purposes, “bacteria powered” (as the t-shirt above on my beautiful friend Courtney suggests).

While this is old news for many who’ve experienced the benefits of a living, probiotic-rich diet first hand, scientists have only recently begun studying the gut-brain connection with more depth.

What they’re finding out is positively fascinating!

A recent segment on NPR delved into much of the latest research.

Brain Scans Prove Connection Between Gut Microbiomes and Mood

Dr. Emeran Mayer is a professor of medicine and psychology at UCLA. He believes that the bacteria in our gut shapes our behavior and moods, and he’s been using MRIs to prove it.

Essentially, he’s comparing the brain scans of thousands of volunteers with the microbiome of their gut bacteria.

Mayer found that the connections between brain regions differed depending on which species of bacteria dominated a person’s gut. That suggests that the specific mix of microbes in our guts might help determine what kinds of brains we have — how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired.

Transferring Moods in Mice with Gut Microbe Transplants

Dr. Stephen M. Collins transplanted the gut microbes from fearless mice into anxious mice.

I’ll give you one guess as to what happened.

The previously anxious mice? Became fearless.

It worked in the opposite direction as well. When the gut microbes from anxious mice were transplanted into fearless mice, the fearless mice became anxious.


Gut Microbes Produce Their Own Versions of Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are those wonderful chemicals that transmit signals between neurons. They help send the signals inside your brain that make you feel happy, sad, anxious, or bold.

In the past few decades, doctors have been treating mood disorders with mind-altering drugs that trick your brain into thinking it has more or less of certain neurotransmitters.

Now they’re discovering that certain bacteria in your gut actually produce mood-altering neurotransmitters!

“I’m actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria,” says Mark Lyte of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene, who studies how microbes affect the endocrine system. “These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms.”

This suggests something we probiotic lovers have known for a long time — that you can actually alter your mood with the right balance of bacteria in your gut.

Probiotics Ameliorate Autism Symptoms in Mice

Dr. Paul Patterson at the California Institute of Technology has been studying the effect of probiotic supplements on mice.

When they give probiotics to mice suffering from autism symptoms, the autism symptoms either go completely away or are strongly ameliorated.


Taken as a whole, these studies are mind-blowing!

Essentially, what we’re seeing is confirmation after confirmation that Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (author of The Gut and Psychology Syndrome) was right.

The gut-brain connection is strong and is positively affected by having he right balance of bacteria in the gut.

This begs the question: how do I get the right balance of bacteria in my gut?

I’ve implemented the following steps for myself:

  • I incorporate homemade bone broth into my daily routine. — While bone broth isn’t rich in probiotics, it does facilitate the healing & repair of the gut lining and works synergystically to promote good gut health. If you can’t make homemade broth, you can always buy real bone broth (without hidden MSG) online from one of my sponsors here.
  • I eat fermented foods & drinks daily. — It’s important that these be real, living, craft-fermented versions of your favorites like homemade sauerkraut. That’s because almost all store-bought varieties are pasteurized. And more often than not, they’re not even fermented first, but made in a vinegar brine rather than the old-fashioned way.
  • I take therapeutic grade probiotics.This is the brand I take. It’s raw, ships cold, and contains 85 billion live cultures of 32 different bacterial strains.

What do you do to make sure you’ve got the right balance of bacteria in your gut?

(photo credit: my friend Courtney at Revived Kitchen!)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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12 Responses to New Studies Show Gut Bacteria Are “Mind-altering Microorganisms”
  1. bobbie joh
    December 3, 2013 | 11:42 am

    i appreciate the recommendation of the probiotic supplement, but it leads me to a question: is a probiotic supplement absorbed into/used by the gut? is there any evidence of this..or is a healthy gut the result of raw and fermented foods eaten over a period of time (and absorption)? i ask because we have so many conflicting viewpoints on the efficacy of vitamin supplements – whether or not they are used by the body or simply excreted. I would love to give a good raw probiotic supplement to my growing family if it is of value.

  2. Pop
    December 3, 2013 | 12:13 pm

    Anything that is non pasturized will have natural probiotic ( fruit juice, raw milk, cultured yogurt,etc.) Sometimes you find a good probiotic, but many have lost effectiveness by the time it is bottled & shipped- you want live cultures with numerous strains of bacteria. Good Luck & Be Well !!

  3. Frasier Linde
    December 3, 2013 | 3:49 pm

    You should check out resistant starch, which is emerging as a highly beneficial prebiotic.

  4. Lisa
    December 3, 2013 | 4:09 pm

    I add miso to my bone broth so it is loaded with probiotics!

  5. Coco
    December 3, 2013 | 7:58 pm

    Thank you Kristen – fascinating. That explains why since I’ve become addicted to kimchi my mood is noticeably more stable and I feel fantastic! Even though I’m a scientist, sometimes my sample size of one (me) is enough!

  6. Thyroid Nation via Facebook
    January 20, 2014 | 8:26 pm

    I will be reposting this. Plus, the pic is awesome! :)

  7. Food Renegade via Facebook
    January 21, 2014 | 9:49 am

    Thanks, it’s a pic of Courtney, my friend at Revived Kitchen!

  8. Stephanie Hoogerheide via Facebook
    September 1, 2014 | 7:02 pm

    I fully believe this. Have you seen the stories of zombie ants? Check it out :)

  9. Mary Elizabeth Clarke via Facebook
    September 1, 2014 | 7:25 pm


  10. Kathryn Moody Becker via Facebook
    September 1, 2014 | 8:03 pm

    Well, of course! :). Glad they are catching on.

  11. Marz Attacks via Facebook
    September 2, 2014 | 7:27 am

    Millie, I thought you might be interested. Drinking Kombucha is actually a really good place to start. It has helped me feel so much happier and healthier day to day.

  12. Millie SacredCircles via Facebook
    September 2, 2014 | 7:58 am

    Thanks babe! I’m excited to try my first batch and feel the difference, I’ll have a read of that now ;)

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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