Gut Bacteria

When I was a student, my professor once said to me that he thought that human beings might be just transport systems for bacteria.

This seemed like an outlandish remark all those years ago when bacteria were often thought of as disease-causing organisms that should be either killed or avoided.

However today we are beginning to realise that the bacteria in our digestive systems work with us to provide us with nutrients and vitamins, digest food and secrete anti-inflammatory chemicals that support our well being.

Many scientists now think of human beings not as self-sustaining organisms but as complex ecosystems supporting and being supported by a range of bacterial species.

It is also becoming clear that these gut bacteria are affected by the food that we eat. It has been shown that people eating a highly processed Western diet have a greatly reduced diversity of bacteria in their gut and that this situation may adversely influence our health.

Now neuroscientists are beginning to understand how gut bacteria may influence the brain. The immune system is also likely to play a part, as does the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the digestive tract.

In fact the gut is now being referred to as our “second brain,” which contains bacteria that could help mould our brain structure, possibly influencing our moods, behaviour and mental health.

Perhaps a gut feeling is more than mere intuition!