The ever-expanding world of science has unlocked yet another door to understanding the ways in which our bodies function. Microbiology, specifically, allows us a glimpse into the inner-workings of the physiological aspect of life. Things like bacteria and microbes are often ignored when we think about dietary choices, because they are invisible to us, but new research has found that they may actually be playing a much bigger role than we would expect.
Bacteria in our bodies outnumbers cells by 100-fold, so it makes sense that scientists would suspect they hold a substantial amount of power over bodily functions. What researchers uncovered about microbes within our digestive tracts, however, was that they have the capacity to affect bigger things like our behavior and mood. Bacteria in our guts can influence our eating habits to choose foods that contain certain nutrients that they thrive on, as opposed to just making do with what’s available. Some bacteria favor sugar, for example, while others prefer fat or various other things found in our diets. Our digestive tracts are the ecosystem for these bacteria, according to senior author of the published research, Athena Aktipis, Ph.D.
Researchers refer to the collective system of different groups of bacteria living within our stomach and intestines, as the “gut microbiome,” and believe it is responsible for dictating our behaviors by releasing signaling molecules into our gut. These molecules are likely affecting our eating decisions by utilizing the vagus nerve, which offers a direct route from the digestive tract to the brain. In an effort to sustain their place in the microbiome, these bacteria gain control over our diets by affecting our moods based on whether or not we have consumed the nutrients they want us to. Because of the different types of bacteria, they also fight amongst themselves to have a bigger influence over us than other groups within the biome. So essentially, rival gangs of bacteria are facing off in turf wars inside our digestive tracts. Our “gut microbiome” acts as the Thunderdome in which teams of bacteria with opposing appetites battle one another in order to win pizza parties and ice cream socials.
This fascinating study is still in its infancy, and aims to continue research on the importance of the microbiome and its role in our health. The world under our skin seems to be just as vast and interesting as the one we live in. These fleshy exteriors hardly do justice for the intricate bacteria carnival taking place behind the curtains. It’s been said that the gut microbiome was actually the original inspiration behind John Mayer’s hit song, “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” It doesn’t take a handsome lyrical visionary to see that, though, just a really powerful electron microscope.