Although we rarely think that our mental health can actually impact our physical health–the truth is, it can! In fact, research has found that feeling happy can sort of neutralise pathogens in the gut that can cause deadly infections. How does this happen though? Blame serotonin!
A study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe found that the chemical ‘serotonin’ promotes happiness and well-being, which inhibits pathogenic bacteria in the intestines thus leading to good gut health. This offers a new way to fight infections for which few truly effective treatments currently exist.
How did they study the impact of serotonin on our gut health?
Trillions of bacteria live in our gut. While most of these gut bacteria are beneficial, some pathogenic bacteria can colonize our gastrointestinal tract and cause serious and potentially fatal infections.
Since the gut bacteria is significantly impacted by the environment it lives in, researchers contemplated if the serotonin produced naturally in the gut can impact the spread of a bacteria which is infamously known to infect our gastrointestinal tract.
For in-depth analysis, researchers worked with a species of bacteria that causes periodic outbreaks often causing a deadly foodborne infection, Escherichia coli O157. The researchers grew these pathogenic bacteria in Petri dishes in the lab and then later exposed them to serotonin.
Further, the research examined the impact of serotonin on the pathogenic bacteria keeping our gut health. They used mice to study to examine how serotonin might change the ability for Citrobacter rodentium–a mouse gut bacterium often used as an analogue for E. coli in humans–to infect and sicken their hosts.
To fully understand the impact of serotonin, the selected mice were genetically modified to either over- or underproduce serotonin in their gastrointestinal tracts.
What did they find?
The gene expression tests studying the impact of serotonin on our gut health showed that serotonin significantly reduced the expression of a group of genes that these bacteria use to cause infections.
When examining the impact of serotonin on human cells rather than mice, it was found that the bacteria could no longer cause infection-associated wounds on the cells if these bacteria were exposed to serotonin.
The lead author of the study from UT Southwestern Medical Centre, Vanessa Sperandio explained: “Although the vast majority of research on serotonin has centred on its effects in the brain, about 90 % of this neurotransmitter–a chemical that nerve cells use to communicate with each other–is produced in the gastrointestinal tract.”
Interestingly, the rodents genetically modified to overproduce serotonin had an almost minimal course of illness when exposed to foreign bacteria while mice underproducing serotonin became much sicker after bacterial exposure, often dying from their illness.
So ladies, a happy state of mind shall not only keep your mind healthy but also promote gut health.
(With inputs from IANS)