1. As the science is emerging on the mind-gut connection, what do you believe is the most significant discovery?
The most important realization is to view the mind-brain-gut microbiome interactions as a fully integrated system (supercomputer), which is always engaged in its entirety in response to perturbations like food, emotions, and stress. We cannot understand it in health or in disease if we focus on the individual pieces in isolation.
2. What are practical steps we can take to develop microbial diversity?
Our options are somewhat limited as adults to increase diversity. Nevertheless, eating a diet high in a wide variety of plant-based foods and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics as much as possible is the best thing you can do. Also, learning to reduce negative emotions and excessive stress responses through meditative practices provides additional benefits.
3. How are our childhood memories relevant to the well-being of our gut?
Early adverse life events starting prenatally and into the first 18 years of life have a well-demonstrated effect on our stress system, which in turn has negative effects on the gut and its microbiota. Mouse models of early adversity show features very similar to irritable bowel syndrome, with increased sensitivity of the gut, abnormal contractions, greater leakiness of the gut, and increased anxiety.
4. What are the consequences of our emotions to our gut microbes?
The microbial changes in response to different emotional states result in molecules released by the gut microbiota, which then act back into the gastrointestinal tract and the sensors located in it, which sends these signals back to the brain. So every emotion is reflected in an altered state of the brain-gut microbiome system.
5. How can we be more conscious of what our gut is trying to tell us?
The first step is cognitive—understanding the intricate connections with the mind-brain-gut microbiome system. The second step is to become mindful of these events in response to our emotions. The third step is to take control with conscious eating and stress management, including abdominal breathing and autogenic training techniques.
Researcher and author Emeran Mayer, MD, examines brain-gut interactions in his new book, The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health.