Is Your Gut Health Affecting Your Neurological Health? An Expert Explains
You've probably already heard a lot about probiotics, and how maintaining good gut health is critical for digestion and immunity, but did you know that your gut can also play a role in your neurological health?
There's a good reason that feeling anxious can make your stomach squirm, and it's that the digestive system and mind are actually super connected. The gut even plays a role in regulating the neurotransmitters that carry chemical signals from cell to cell. Neuralli is a unique medical probiotic containing PS128, formulated not just to help with gastrointestinal issues, but to benefit people with neurological conditions including Parkinson's disease, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We were very curious to learn more, which is why we spoke to Casey Arendt, director of science communication at Bened Life, the company behind Neuralli, to learn more about probiotics and just how powerful they can be.
Sweety High: How is gut health tied to neurological health? How can a medical probiotic like Neuralli help?
Casey Arendt: Scientists have found that the digestive organs and the brain talk to each other via the neuronal system (vagus nerve and molecules like neurotransmitters), immune system and other mechanisms. That's why when you're nervous, you feel it in your stomach!
There are trillions of gut microbes living inside your intestines participating in food digestion and nutrient absorption that help you maintain your overall health. Some of these gut microbes are good bacteria, and some are bad. They live together in a delicate balance for your body. When those microbes are out of balance, it can cause GI issues. It can also knock certain neurotransmitter levels off-kilter, causing you to sleep less well or feel more anxious or depressed. On the other side of the coin, if you're stressed and anxious, your brain can speed up digestion via the vagus nerve, causing cramping and diarrhea. A neurologically active medical probiotic like Neuralli can help by modulating levels of neurotransmitters involved in mood, like dopamine and serotonin, to help you feel mentally better. Some people also notice an improvement in their gut health with Neuralli.
Also read about: Could a Little Cognitive Behavior Therapy Help You in School? An Expert Explains
SH: What are the roles of dopamine and serotonin in our everyday lives? How can bad gut health throw their production out of whack, and how might that affect us?
CA: Dopamine is involved in our reward and motivation system. It's what makes you feel good when you check something off your to-do list or win a game, and it keeps you coming back for more. It's also involved in decision-making, attention and memory. Most dopamine is made and used in the brain, but research in animal models suggests that having less diverse kinds of microbes in the gut microbes can decrease dopamine activity. This is because certain good gut microbes seem to be able to influence dopamine activity in the brain, although we don't yet know how they do it.
Serotonin helps with mood and emotions, as well as appetite and digestion—it helps us feel focused, happy and emotionally stable. It's also a precursor for melatonin, which helps us sleep. Since about 90% of our serotonin is actually made by our intestinal lining, poor gut health could potentially interfere with serotonin production. Lower serotonin can contribute to signs of anxiety, mild depression and inability to focus.
SH: Why might the dietary needs of neurodiverse people be different than those of neurotypical people?
CA: Some neurodiverse people have sensory sensitivities around food tastes and textures. This can lead them to eat a diet that is low in the prebiotic fiber that good gut bacteria thrive on. This kind of limited diet could affect their gut microbiome diversity and the balance of good vs. pathogenic bacteria. There may be other reasons for imbalances in the gut microbiota of many neurodiverse people, but GI issues, gut dysbiosis and autism especially often go hand-in-hand. Molecules that good gut bacteria produce, like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), may be in short supply for such folks. A lack of these healthy molecules can increase your risk for intestinal inflammation and more serious conditions. A probiotic that produces SCFAs could potentially address this dietary need without triggering sensory sensitivities. Alternatives are eating more fibrous foods regularly or taking SCFA supplements that usually smell slightly rancid.
Imbalances in dopamine and/or serotonin levels are seen in many neurodiverse individuals (autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression disorders all come to mind). Adding certain fruits or vegetables or other common foods to the diet typically won't affect this kind of neurotransmitter imbalance. However, taking a neurologically active medical probiotic is a potential way to add something to your diet that may support normalized dopamine and/or serotonin activity.
SH: What are the benefits, both physical and mental, of taking Neuralli daily? How long might it take for a Neuralli user to see benefits?
CA: We recommend taking Neuralli for 90 days to begin seeing results. However, some people see a benefit from Neuralli right away, whether it's better GI function, sleeping through the night more frequently or overall better mood. Generally, though, the benefits build over time. Some people notice that they are better able to focus, others that they have more "space" before a meltdown begins. Not everyone will see a strong effect (or any effect). It can be tricky to notice gradual effects, especially in ourselves. You might ask a close friend or family member if they've noticed a change in you since you started taking Neuralli—they may see something that you missed.
Also read about: What Exactly Is Emotional Regulation? An Expert Gives Tips on Managing Feelings in a Healthy Way
SH: Is there anything else we should know about Neuralli?
CA: PS128, the active ingredient in Neuralli, is backed by 12 human clinical studies focused on autism, Parkinson's Disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia and athletic recovery. Interestingly, the studies with autistic people appear to show a benefit for attention, suggesting PS128 could help people with ADHD.
On the hunt for some great gifts to give out this year? Click HERE for our favorite wellness and self-care gifts of 2022.