We know that our microbiome (or the collective bacteria in and on the human body) has been shown to play important roles in our digestion, metabolism, and possibly even our sleep cycles. But recent research is revealing that it also might profoundly affect our psychological disposition. In a June article in the New York Times (feature below), Peter Andrey Smith writes about the new field of study in psychobiotics, or the bacteria in our gut that may very well be affecting our moods, dispositions, and even our disorders.
(And, for a good primer on the groundbreaking and utterly fascinating research being done in this area, we recommend Michael Pollan’s 2013 New York Times article, “Some of My Best Friends are Germs.”)
Can Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?
by Peter Andrey Smith
Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex.
Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.