New research in the field of epigenetics has shown that our genes are being changed not only by what we touch but by what we believe, think and experience (3, 4).
The fascinating twist is that these experiences, beliefs and thoughts are being processed not just through our brains – but by the billions of microbes living in our gut.
Microbial cells have been found to make up 90% of our bodies – leaving only 10% as human cells (1). These microbes multiply at an alarming rate and change based on what we eat, where we live, who we interact with, what we think and believe. Indeed, they have a powerful influence on who we are.
Keep reading to discover the connection between microbes and the mind, and how you can use this cutting-edge research to take control of your mind before it controls you.
Putting the Research Together
Recent research on the gut-brain connection concludes that:
- There are 100 million neurons embedded in the gut wall, earning it the nickname, “the Second Brain.”
- 95% of the serotonin – a major neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being – in the body is manufactured and stored in the gut (2).
Cutting-edge research on microbes in the gut has shown that:
- 90% of the cells in the human body are microbial and only 10% of us is human (1).
- Some microbes can reproduce as much as a million times in eight hours, giving them millions of opportunities each day to genetically adapt to our changing environment.
- There are trillions of microbes in the gut and they are responsible for manufacturing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
- The microbiome – the entire collective of human microbes in circulation – is altering our DNA (1).
Thinking and Feeling Microbes
Researchers now theorize that when an individual is under stress, certain stress-related chemicals are produced in the gut. These stress chemicals alter the microbiome of the gut and disturb the production of mood supporting neurotransmitters (6).
One study performed at the University of Wisconsin found that pregnant mice that were repeatedly startled and stressed during their pregnancies had babies who had significantly less Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria (good microbes) in their guts (6).
Another study observed how a fearful, shy-natured mouse became more aggressive and competitive when the fecal microbiota from a very aggressive competitive mouse was transplanted into its gut (5).
A 2011 study in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity observed mice that were forced to live with a social disrupter – a mouse that was very aggressive and disruptive. Living with such a mouse changed the bacteria of the guts of the healthy normal mice. Their good bacteria were decreased, the bad bacteria proliferated and the mice experienced numerous health and immunity-related conditions (6).
Now, numerous studies measuring the effects of probiotics on the brain and mood of humans are underway. Preliminary results from studies using neuro-imaging to track these effects are promising (6).
Ayurveda has a saying: “what you see you become.” This means that whatever you choose to give your attention to will shape you, and thereby become you. Feelings and beliefs make up much of what we give our attention to, altering the microbes of the gut.
When the microbes in our gut are impacted by stress hormones, this has a significant impact on our health.
Ayurveda is an entire system of healthcare dedicated to teaching us how to live a lifestyle with minimal stress and maximal self-awareness. The three Ayurvedic mind states provide a map for how to get there.
According to Ayurveda there are three mind states:
Sattva is a state of mind that is fully content within itself. It does not require anything from the outside to make it happy.
Rajas is a state of mind that requires stimulation to be happy. Satisfaction comes from the stimulation of our senses from the outside world.
Tamas is a state of mind that has become overstimulated and depleted. It is inward, depressed and withdrawn.
It is a time tested Ayurvedic principle to strive towards a sattvic way of life. Increased self-awareness helps us observe how our minds become falsely convinced that we need outside stimulation to make us happy. This kind of happiness is always temporary. By contrast, putting your attention on sattvic, non-violent, non-stimulating activities will breed optimal health and longevity. Today, we know the impact of such an attitude on the body’s microbiology – which is responsible for our health.
Sadly, our attention moves from one war to the next, one tragedy to the next and one stress to another. Research is clearly pointing towards the negative impact of stress and trauma on the human microbiome and its effect on physical and mental health.
To help folks become aware of what aspect of their life is stressed or locked in a stimulating rajasic world, or where the mind has moved toward the tamasic nature of depression, I wrote an article called, What Is Your Emotional Body Type. In it is a quiz that will point out areas in life around which your attitude may be less than sattvic. Once you are aware of where your rajasic and tamasic tendencies are, you can take transformational actions steps to reverse these behavioral patterns. Via this process, we can begin to help happy bugs proliferate – Ayurvedic style.
Looking for more? Check out You Are Only 10% Human here.
1. Pollan M. Cooked. A natural History of Transformation. Penguin Group NY. 2013
2. Gerson M. The Second Brain. Harper Collins. New York. 1998
3. The New York Times. A O’Conner, The Claim: Identical Twins Have Identical DNA. March 11, 2008
4. Dale Theresa. The Epigenetic Connection. Chiropractic Economics Feb 25 2013