Is the Brain the Only Master of Our Emotions

Imagine this, you have just inherited 10 million dollars from a distant aunt, you have just eaten the most delicious warm chocolate brownie that has ever been baked and you have just had sex.

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In these situations, our brains produce chemicals called neurotransmitters, which gives these great feelings of energy, excitement, and happiness.

Without such chemicals inside of us, we wouldn’t feel these wonderful emotions under such pleasant circumstances. So instead, imagine this, you’ve just been fired, you’re back to sit on a math exam and you have depression.  In these situations our brains instead produce different chemicals, making us feel stressed and anxious. Murad Skin Care – Redirect Link

The highs and lows of life, are controlled by our emotions and these chemicals in our brains.  The vital organ inside all of us that controls everything that we feel, think and do.

However, as a biologist, I’ve always found it strange to comprehend that every feeling, thought, and action that we have is controlled by a three-pound soggy lump of cells inside of our heads until I discovered that this might the full story, but only the beginning.

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A Family Tradition. How did It start?

The story I want to share with you today unfolds a fascinating new revelation in our understanding of human physiology that we each have a second brain.  Another organ in our body which controls as much of our physical and mental functions, as the brain in our heads and which may be the key link between modern disease epidemics globally, from obesity to cardiovascular disease, maybe even to mental health.  $5 Off First Purchase – Touch of Modern

But first, to give you a little introduction to this story, I want to tell you a little bit of my background.

I was brought up in a family of psychologists. My mom is a clinical psychologistThe branch of psychology concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness and disability, my dad a professor of psychology at the University, my sister even has a PhD in psychology.  So when it came to my turn to go to university, I wanted to study something different.

I’ve heard enough about the brain and how it worked at home.  So, I wanted to study something new.  I was interested in, from a very early age, that I had a big interest in food, I loved eating and so I decided to study human nutrition. This was great because I got to study food, how it affected our bodies, how it could contribute to disease and more importantly, how we could use it to fight and prevent disease.

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Are You a Human or Bacteria?

Élie Metchnikoff scientist

Élie Metchnikoff Nobel Prize Winner 1908

The story begins back in 1845, with the birth of a curious young boy in Russia, who became an incredible man, but who was forgotten by history and medicine. Élie Metchnikoff  was fascinated by everything in nature and by the age of eight, he was taking notes on all the living things in his vibrant back garden.

He became so good at science that he discovered the role of phagocytes, some crucial cells in our immune systems, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1908. But it was his science after winning the Nobel Prize, that was even more important towards the understanding of human health through discovery, death and self-experimentation.

There is a Common Thread in All of Us

Every human has something in common, we all spent the first nine months of our existence inside our mothers womb, and this was essentially a sterile environment where no other living thing existed, just us.  As you emerged into this world, you were smothered in an invisible coating of microbes, friendly microbes from your mother’s birth canal.

These bacteria grew to form what is now, a three-pound invisible organ inside your large intestine, the same way as your brain which has become known as our microbiota or microbiome.  And this invisible organ has grown so much in fact, that right now 90% of the cells in your body are bacterial cells, only 10% of your own human cells.

So you are more bacteria than you are human.

An Ecosystem of Microbes?

This ecosystem of microbes in your gut is as diverse as the Amazon rainforest.  Thousands of species all with different functions and your health is incredibly dependent upon the life and vibrancy of this rain forest.

Your gut bacteria digest certain foods, produce essential vitamins and hormones, respond to medicine and infections, control your blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.

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Many of the types of bacteria in your intestines, can significantly control your risk of certain diseases from obesity and diabetes, maybe even osteoporosis. They’re involved in just about every process in your body.

They function almost as a second brain.

Insightful Discoveries Ignored Over Time

Élie Metchnikoff may have figured that the same himself in 1892.  He lived in Paris France, and at the time, a deadly cholera epidemic had broken out with thousands of deaths.  Naturally, as a scientist, he decided the best way to study this, was to drink a broth of cholera himself.

neuroscience and get health

Gut and Brain Microbe Connection

Remarkably, he didn’t get sick.  So again as a true scientist, he needed to increase the sample size.  So he recruited a colleague to do the same thing.  This guy didn’t get sick either.  But when he recruited another colleague to do the same, this poor guy got critically ill and very nearly died.   $5 Off First Purchase – Touch of Modern

By studying cholera under the microscope, Metchnikoff found that certain species of bacteria from the human intestines supported and stimulated cholera’s growth while other species prevented it.  He subsequently claimed the gut microbiota or gut bacteria were essential for human health and the right balance of microbes inside of us could help stave off disease.

However, popular understanding at the time was that the human gut was a noxious reservoir of toxins.  Surgeons even began removing entire sections of human intestines in patients with gut discomfort.

Metchnikoff death in 1916, meant his ideas that “gut bacteria are good for us”…..were forgotten.  A decade later antibiotics were discovered and drastically became overused, c-sections became common and diets became westernized.

A war was waged on microbes and we spent a century trying to kill them, which turned our intestinal rain forests into barren wastelands.

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The Nobel Prize winners ideas were lost in time.  

Some of the implications of this were identified recently.  Right now one in three children in America is born by c-section. Maybe they don’t get this initial inoculumA substance used for inoculation or coating of bacteria that has been designed to be in the mother’s birth canal.

Instead, their first coated with other bacteria on the skin or in the hospital environment which has contributed to up to 25% increase risk of obesity, asthma, immune deficiencies and inflammatory bowel disease in later life.

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Fortunately, in recent times, we realize we must restore our relationship with gut microbes for our own physical health.

Mice Go Crazy on Microbes 

However, we still completely underestimated their role of our second brains and this is something that I’m researching.  And I learned this first to the intriguing story of a mouse.  If mice become colonized by the microbe toxoplasma gondii, an intriguing thing happens……they lose their fear of cats.

In fact, they become attracted to cats!  In essence they go a bit mad, unfortunately for them, they usually end up as dinner for cats.  So this microbe ingested by this animal takes control of the brain and changes the way it thinks and behaves.

By delving deep inside the intestinal jungle of bacteria in our intestines, we are going to find some incredible discoveries that are changing our appreciation for bacteria forever.

The Brain and the Gut are Siamese Twins

Our bellies and brains are physically and biochemically connected in a number of ways.  First of all, our intestines are physically linked to our brain through the vagus nervePneumogastric Nerve which sends signals in both directions.

neurons and digestion

Interestingly, even if this is severed our intestines can still continue to function fully with every connection to the brain, suggesting they have a mind of their own.

Secondly, our brains are made up of a hundred billion neuronsA specialized cell transmitting nerve impulses; a nerve cell which continuously send messages to tell our bodies, how to work and behave. Our guts have a hundred million neurons.

Thirdly, our microbiomes are at the center point of our immune systems, meaning a disturbance down here, can cause subtle immune reactions all around the body which if prolonged can affect brain health.

As it turns out most of these neurotransmitters are also produced in our gut, none more so than serotonin, nature’s antidepressant.  90% of which is produced in our intestines, less than ten percent is produced in our brains.

I mean the types of bacteria inside of you may control the way that you think and behave.  Has stress ever messed with your insides, have you ever had a bad gut feeling or butterflies in your stomach, you may have to think twice about that. Murad Skin Care – Redirect Link

So as you can see, despite my naive reluctance as a teenager, I began to study not only one brain, but two brains in the APC Microbiome Institute in Ireland, where fascinated with this link between our belly and our brains and we research how our modern diets and lifestyles are impacting this gut-brain relationship and how we can design interventions to target the microbiota in order to prevent and treat chronic diseases.   $5 Off First Purchase – Touch of Modern

For example, we’ve shown that the types of fats that you eat throughout life can drastically change the types of bacteria that decided to reside in your intestines.  In addition, we’ve shown by feeding on specific strains of bacteria that we can enhance memory, stress behavior and stress hormone levels in animals.

And in addition to a number of other researchers worldwide, we’ve identified lists of foods that can act as prebiotics or foods that can stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestines.

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The War on Bacteria

To me, it’s fascinating that our health is so dependent not only upon nourishing ourselves but upon feeding other living or microorganisms inside of us.

Meaning, future strategies to target and treat chronic diseases mainly focuses on brain health, may depend on targeting or feeding our gut microbiomes.  As it turns out, Élie Metchnikoff may have known this himself.  Much earlier in his life he married but his wife quickly became sick with tuberculosis and died.

The stress and trauma of this led Metchnikoff to take an overdose of opium.  Thankfully he survived.  He then remarried and when a second wife got sick with the deadly typhoid fever, this time he injected himself with a deadly tick-borne disease.  Thankfully survived again.

bacteria and gut health

It was only after this, Metchnikoff  began studying and appreciating the microbiota, did he move to Paris to work in the Pasteur Institute where he began hypothesizing that the right balance of microbes in the gut, could help stave off disease and he published a series of books and lectures describing how to achieve this and prolong life.

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Despite the stress and mental turmoil he experienced in earlier life, he spent the rest of his life dedicated and obsessed with researching how to prolong human life.

He began studying an interesting group of people in Eastern Europe who are living exceptionally long lives and he noted that they all drank bacterial fermented milk every day and it could be suggested that this contributed to their longevity.

Interestingly, he began drinking this bacteria fermented milk himself and seemingly lived a healthy life rid of the stress and mental turmoil he had experienced in earlier life. Maybe that was just coincidental.

He described the time in Paris as the happiest of his life, but Metchnikoff died in France in 1916 at the age of 71.  The life expectancy in France at the time was 40.  As humans, we all need to adopt a greater appreciation for the microbes inside of us.  The incidental war we waged on bacteria over the last century has led to bacterial extinction and sparked an epidemic of modern plagues.   $5 Off First Purchase – Touch of Modern

Microbes In Human Welfare

I feel that we all have a responsibility and the potential to follow in  Metchnikoff’s footsteps.  Not only to revive his scientific findings that were lost in time but to adopt his desire to prolong healthy human life.

Whether it’s by educating ourselves and the risks and benefits of c-sections, restricting unnecessary antibiotic use or by adopting a gut-friendly diet and lifestyle, we can all support the life of microbes that benefit us greatly.

bacteria and microbes

So imagine this, imagine you’ve just eaten chocolate or inherited a lot of money, just bee informed of a snap math exam or just been fired, imagine your thoughts, your emotions, your behavior and your health, could be controlled by a hidden organ that you knew very little off.

Élie Metchnikoff worked to not only prolong healthy human life but healthy microbial life.

I feel we can all contribute to the fight for our own good health, but more importantly for future generations health by restoring the relationship between microbe and man.  There is some food for thought!

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