Have you ever felt irritable when you were hungry? Or perhaps you find that your concentration levels drop as you start to feel like you need something to eat? This is a direct way in which our hunger can change how we act, but new studies show that it’s not just about how much we eat. It seems that what we eat can also have an impact on our personalities!
Scientists are looking at how the bacteria in your gut may actually change your brain chemistry, even making you feel different emotions, like anxiety or depression.
So, just imagine if you could eat the right foods to make your mind healthier as well as your body? It could revolutionise your mealtimes and make you a better person at the same time – but how does it all work?
While the research is still in the early stages, scientists are looking into links between how the bacteria in our guts chemically alter our emotions by sending signals to your brain. You can sense these signals by how they make us crave certain foods, but there is increasing evidence that these signals may also change how we think and feel.
One theory says that the bacteria send signals along a pathway into our brain which, in turn triggers the chemicals that alter our emotions. Of course, you know this sensation from eating something which you enjoy (chocolate?), and the way it can make you feel happy. By taking this idea further, scientists are now finding evidence that certain bacteria types can actually reverse autistic symptoms or reduce anxiety and depression.
Yoghurt, for example, may be one of the foods that can alter how we process emotions, according to studies which demonstrated a change among women who ate it twice a day.
But why would the bacteria want to change how we thought, and even make us nicer people?
One theory asserts that it is mutually beneficial for us and the tiny bacteria living inside us. Historically-speaking, if we are better people, who can co-operate with others - the theory asserts - then we are more likely to be successful, stay alive, and have children. Which, in turn, means another place for more gut bacteria to live and thrive. In fact, some suggest that it was gut bacteria that helped push human evolution to make us work together, so that they could spread out and increase in number too!
With that all being said, right now, the research is still in the early stages, so don’t expect to be given a list of which foods to eat to promote which bacteria, and how they will change your moods. And, like any drugs, the gut bacteria make things happen in our bodies, so it is important that we understand the full implications before anyone starts prescribing a ‘positive bacteria diet’ for your mind. However, the implications are clear when it comes to treating anxiety, depression, or any number of other negative mind-states.
Now that really would be a case of “you are what you eat” - and just imagine being able to reduce your stress by eating a certain breakfast before you went to an exam or job interview!