Microbiota: More than a Gut Feeling?

Updated: Sep 11, 2019



Living in a world and rhythm that offers more stress than solutions, that has triggers every hour of your day, that requires a lot of commute time, has a profound impact in your mood, emotions and also in your gut health, intestinal flora or microbiota. Yes you’re reading correctly, your gastrointestinal health, your intestinal flora is completely changing and due to this fact you’re being predisposed to develop some of the most common chronic metabolic and mental diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, anxiety and why not added to this list are also immune disorders.


Let’s define microbiota, in an easy way so we can get in the context of how it is impacting our health in such multifaceted ways.


Microbiota is an "ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms" found in and on all multicellular organisms studied to date from plants to animals. A microbiota includes bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses. Microbiota have been found to be crucial for immunologic, hormonal and metabolic homeostasis of their host (1).


The modern style of living under very stressful conditions, more than 70% of your time, is now having an effect in the kind of microbiota that you have which in consequence is changing your hormonal patterns, metabolic changes, sleep disorders and immune dysregulation giving as a consequence all the diseases mentioned above.

Let’s start with the easy example of a pretty regular day in the live of a normal, maybe you can even say healthy person, usually starts the day at 6:00 am, sets the alarm to snooze because he/she is still tired, then it becomes 6:15 am, goes to the bathroom, sets her/his things for the day while waiting the heater, chooses the outfit for the day, prepares some coffee, if there’s time, while choosing the outfit, usually some stress is already happening, checks her mobile phone, just a few minutes, more stress comes as he/she remembers something form work, takes whatever is around for breakfast yogurt, bread or on the way buys something, engages in eight to ten hours of work where a lot of interactions happen, of course a lot more stress is generated by the time of lunch and he/she eats under stress hormones that have at least 6 to 8 hours already been releases since the morning, of course food is not well processed as a result of the stress and now some emotions (usually negative).


Then the second part of the work hours come and at least another 4-6 hours of stress are added to the pool of emotions, usually after the meal some small hints of bowel strange movements are already presenting, however by this time, a lot of information was processed already between your microbiota and your brain (we’ll discuss this below), then finally the day is off and a big load of cortisol, adrenaline and some other inflammatory chemicals were released, then the commute either by car or by public transportation a big amount of stress is generated there which additionally complements the main course with some social media triggers, comparison, dissatisfaction or some toxic news.


By the time this person has arrived to his/her place …there’s an accumulation of minimum 12 hours of stress hormones, even with a healthy feeding, due to stress while having his/her meals, digestion doesn’t occur in the same manner and to end the day of course with all the hormonal mess there’s a tendency to be hungrier and not for a healthy dinner, so why not processed or sugary food is the final meal.


And right before sleeping some blue light to later more your hormonal patterns and stress hormones, of course that will eventually lead to some insomnia or not a very restful sleep. And the cycle repeats over and over until it is obvious that the pattern of bacterias that help you processed, digest and also signal your brain is another mix, which is now usually leading you to develop some symptoms of disease.

In fact, emotion in Latin means “motion”. Darwin states that there are different facial expressions related to that movement. These physical changes are fast, specific, and self-­limiting; thus, the body may return to the original state after the stimulus disappears or it may chronically persist if the emotion is not resolved, for example, a feeling of resentment (2).


Once the state of alert is initiated, blood flows into specific body areas depending on the situation. For example, blood flows to the legs in case of “fear”, towards the chest and arms in case of “fight”, and to the genitalia when a possible mate is detected or to the stomach when the appetite or hunger arises. Additionally, in regard to the blood flow, Alexander Lowen suggests sorting emotions into positive or negative. Positive emotions are all those that provide well­being and pleasure, while negative emotions generate the opposite. The former favors blood flow whereas the latter generate vasoconstriction, releasing adrenalin and cortisol, which activates stress. Based on Lowen’s concept, one or a set of negative emotions over an extended period could lead to chronic illness (2).


Should be easier for many of us to see what is in front of our face, when we dissect the way our days are being lived, however we have been so conditioned to instead look outside and find “magical pills or remedies” to the chronic state that most of us are living that we try to pay for shortcuts or momentarily solutions without being able to see why we fall on those traps, our body is trying to help us sending the appropriate signals, literally your stomach and gut is screaming at you but you simply don’t want to listen, part of this is also because as you can see in the narrative there’s any way of letting the stress out of your body, that is why there’s now more emphasis on the physical activity/exercise as one way to release that stress (3), another good strategy to let everything out is to find peace within by synchronizing your heart and brain either with meditation techniques, yoga or simply by breathing exercises (4).

Whether you resist the signals, the screams from many of your internal organs, such as your gut, such as your heart, such as your mood (brain), they are there and day by day they will be increasing or looking for another type of outlet, which unfortunately, will be a disease.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) are a broad spectrum of chronic abnormalities, some of which arise from dysfunctional brain­gut interactions that can lead to dysmotility and hypersensitivity. Several factors such as genetic susceptibility, gut physiology, microbiota composition, and psycholo­gical factors have been associated with FGIDs (2).


Episodes of anxiety and depression are experienced more frequently in individuals with FGIDs than in healthy subjects. They also have been related to physiological changes in colonic motility, abdominal pain, mucosal blood flow and hyperreactivity among patients with intestinal bowel syndrome (IBS). Furthermore, negative emotions, stressful life events and personality traits like neuroticism have been associated with IBS, colitis, Crohn’s disease (CD) and dyspepsia (indigestion). At the same time, impaired attention and emotion regulation elicit symptoms of anxiety, hypervigilance, and hypersensitivity (2).

However, the pathophysiological process of how emotions relate to GI disorders is not clearly understood. It has been proposed that homeostatic signals between the GI system and emotions are integrated by the gut­brain axis. This axis comprises the interaction between the endocrine, the immune and the enteric nervous systems, which in turn, interact with the autonomic and central nervous systems. For example, chronic stress promotes the release of pro­inflammatory cytokines and C­ reactive protein (2).


This protein stimulates the hypothalamic­ pituitary­ adrenal (HPA) axis by liberating corticotrophin ­releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, which stimulates the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone, which finally stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex to limit stress. In fact, patients with FGIDs and exacerbated anxiety and depression have high cortisol levels. Due to HPA axis dysregulation the mesolimbic brain reward system (BRS) is altered, resulting in cognitive and emotional disturbance. As a result, FGIDs patients, predominantly IBS patients, are characterized by high rates of hypersensitivity related to GI symptoms such as pain (2).


As reflected by all this research evidence, our body is so wise, that it will look a channel where to process all the emotions, how to sustain the amount of toxic chemicals, and will eventually allow you to arrive to a state of homeostasis, however if you continuously engage in behaviors that now you know that are not benefiting you in the long term, is your decision, and looking for external excuses for not getting out of them or just blame people will increase the levels of your stress in addition to fog your brain and make you fall for the shortcuts and “lousy solutions” that will just cost you more money, give you a provisional solution and in the end will lead you again to the same cycle, most likely with a lot more consequences than the ones you had before.

Our mind and body function in a very simple and logical way in terms of how you will be able to achieve an internal stability, however as everything in life, if you keep adding a burden of complains, excuses and being stubborn to stay in the same place, your body, mind and now your gut will make sure to keep reminding you that you did not listen, that you cause the internal mess and that now is time to make a change of many thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviors in order for your internal health to be in balance again.

This “new realm” of bacteria discovered prove that we’re not alone, we have a lot of “internal workers” that we have to take care of, and the more you keep being a toxic boss with them, the less they will work for you, the quicker they will leave your “company” (body) and the laziest employees are the ones that are going to start to populate your company (body), however as we have seen in many toxic companies, these lazy employees are going to create gossips (releasing toxic chemicals), are going to create rumors (mood swings), and most of all are going to get to the top managers (nervous system) infecting them with toxicity and poor productivity which eventually will make the company be faced with bankruptcy (disease) and if you don’t pay attention in time (dissolution of the company) of course fatal consequences.

The gut hosts almost 100 trillion microorganisms that share symbiotic properties with humans. Intestinal microbiota regulates part of the host’s metabolic and energy balance, modulate intestinal motility, and regulate immune system maturation. Also, it confers protection against pathogens and toxins, regulates cytokines secretion from adipose tissue, insulin signaling and finally, modulates host emotions and cognition. The gut microbiota is considered our second genome, because it constitutes 90% of the total number of cells that interact with our bodies (2).

As stated above this universe of microorganisms overpopulate your entire body, if they want, as we see “labor unions” they could gather and make a real mess inside of you, sort of like a “strike” keeping the analogy of your body and a company. So you better listen to their demands, you better sense the signals, that are your hormones, that are your stomach aches, that are your mood swings, that are your stubbornness to ruminate thoughts and engage in depressive thoughts and behaviors, because all of those signals are telling you that you’re not performing well as a CEO and the board (your genes) is keeping score. If we compare the board of investor with your DNA or genes, they keep score through epigenetic marks, which we have talked about before.

These marks will eventually just like the bad evaluations that you gather in a performing developing plan (PDP), are the ones that will lead you to create a disease, a warning from the board, if you keep not paying attention, there will be a second warning, chronic disease, and finally of course, I think by now we know where everything is one to end …fatal causes, you will be dismissed of your job.

The gut microbiota can help regulate emotions and cognition because it maintains a two ­way communication with the brain using the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Brain­ gut communication is driven by the vagal nerve, which connects to nearly 100 million neurons in the enteric nervous system together with afferent (vagal and spinal) and efferent adrenergic neurons (sympathetic and parasympathetic). Moreover, certain gut bacteria synthesize neurotransmitters and close to 20 neuropeptides produced in the enteroendocrine cells (central and peripheral neurons) serve as second messengers in the brain, thus regulating mood and cognition. Some of these include substance P, calcitonin, corticotropin releasing factor, pancreatic polypeptide, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, GLP­1 and somatostatin, neuropeptide Y, and peptide YY, among others . These last two neuropeptides play a major role in body energy homeostasis. The endocrine system regulates the release of gut bac­teria neurotransmitters and ghrelin, influencing the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine whereas the brain controls the neuroendocrine factors (2).


As stated above many functions of your nervous system regulation, a huge percentage of your whole body energetic homeostasis is in charge of your microorganisms/microbiota, so you better pay attention to everything that is happening inside of you, you better start listening to your body and the “good complains” that is giving you, because otherwise the consequences and the voices will be louder and of course the effects will be already a lot worse than you can imagine.

We really don’t want to arrive to those consequences, we really can and know how to do a better job, but you just have one life to figure out the things you have to do, although contrary to a real company, you have more chances that your employees will give, but please don’t be arrogant, ignorant and abusive with your body because then you know what can happen and will happen.

The other good news in this scenario is that you have a way to revert most of the damage that you may have already cause to your body, and there are some simple guidelines and things that you have to do to repair it and to engage in a new life style, just remember that is not putting provisional patches to cure a wound, is about going to the root cause and changing first the thoughts, then the emotions, then the behaviors in order to arrive to a long term solution!


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References.

  1. NIH HMP Working Group; Peterson, J; Garges, S; et al. (2009). "The NIH Human Microbiome Project". Genome Res. 19 (12): 2317–2323.

  2. Panduro, A., Rivera-Iñiguez, I., Sepulveda-Villegas, M., & Roman, S. (2017). Genes, emotions and gut microbiota: The next frontier for the gastroenterologist. World journal of gastroenterology, 23(17), 3030.

  3. Ortega D. “Why Motion is Good for Your Inner Health?”. https://www.gen-es.mx/bloggenesmx. September 03rd, 2019.

  4. Ortega D. “How Can You Synchronize your Heart and Brain?”. https://www.gen-es.mx/bloggenesmx. August 16th, 2019.

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