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The new science on anxiety and gut health


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Photo: StockSnap/Brooke Cagle

While docs used to treat mental health conditions with a pill and a glass of water, the times are changing. Probiotics are arguably the new Prozac already—and now there’s a concrete case for combating anxiety with good bacteria, too.

In a new study conducted at the University of Cork in Ireland, researchers broke new ground in understanding the relationship between gut health and anxiety. While the microbiome-brain connection—AKA the link between digestive and mental health—has been established in other studies, this time they found a first-of-its-kind connection between gastrointestinal microbes and gene regulators in the brain (called microRNAs).

In the study, researchers discovered the mice living a germ-free life ended up having unusual amounts of anxiety.

“Gut microbes seem to influence miRNAs in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex,” lead research Gerard Clarke said in a press release. “This is important because these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression.”

In the study, researchers introduced gut bacteria to two groups of mice: One raised in a germ-free environment, and the other made up of mice raised in a normal environment. They discovered the mice living germ-free ended up having unusual amounts of anxiety, but they weren’t stuck with it: When they added the gut bacteria back in later on, they normalized the changes to the miRNAs, showing a healthy gut could be the answer to regulating the miRNAs.

Additional research still needs to be done, but this study is definitely a step in the right direction. If your probiotics seem to help keep your anxiety at a healthy level, keep doing what you’re doing: The little guys in your stomach are on your side.

This is the major gut health innovation you need to know about immediately. Traveling soon? Here’s how to keep your gut health on point while you’re on the road.

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