But since we choose what we eat, we have the power to control how food affects our feelings and choices?
(p. C12) As the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes, “The mind is embodied, not just embrained.”
The latest evidence comes from a new study of probiotic bacteria, the microorganisms typically found in yogurt and dairy products. While most investigations of probiotics have focused on their gastrointestinal benefits–the bacteria reduce the symptoms of diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome–this new research explored the effect of probiotics on the brain.
The experiment, led by Javier Bravo at University College Cork in Ireland, was straightforward. First, he fed normal lab mice a diet full of probiotics. Then, Mr. Bravo’s team tested for behavioral changes, which were significant: When probiotic-fed animals were put in stressful conditions, such as being dropped into a pool of water, they were less anxious and released less stress hormone.
How did the food induce these changes? The answer involves GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of neurons. When Mr. Bravo looked at the brains of the mice, he found that those fed probiotics had more GABA receptors in areas associated with memory and the regulation of emotions. (This change mimics the effects of popular antianxiety medications in humans.)
For the full summary/commentary, see:
JONAH LEHRER. “HEAD CASE; The Yogurt Made Me Do It; There’s nothing metaphorical about ‘gut feelings’–bacteria influence our minds.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., SEPTEMBER 17, 2011): C12.
The paper summarized is:
Bravo, Javier A., Paul Forsythe, Marianne V. Chew, Emily Escaravage, Hélène M. Savignac, Timothy G. Dinan, John Bienenstock, and John F. Cryan. “Ingestion of Lactobacillus Strain Regulates Emotional Behavior and Central GABA Receptor Expression in a Mouse Via the Vagus Nerve.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2011).