Amazing Story of How Your Belly Affects Your Brain

March 15th, 2015
in Op Ed

by Rodger Malcolm Mitchell,

It widely is known that:

Humans Have Ten Times More Bacteria Than Human Cells

Changes in these microbial communities may be responsible for digestive disorders, skin diseases, gum disease and even obesity.

Follow up:

We essentially are bacteria and virus containers.

It also is known that when species exist intimately, they tend to evolve to become mutually accommodating. As the flower evolves to better attract and feed the bee, the bee evolves to better pollinate the flower.

They each evolve to improve their own species' survival.

The residents of the every living creature's microbiome rely on the chemical and physical surroundings provided by various parts of that creature - the gut, skin, eyes, internal organs, hair, etc.

These residents, in turn, secrete chemicals that enhance their own survival, by affecting their surroundings, sometimes by protecting their host, sometimes not.

Consider the fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, that infects ants.

Spores of the fungus enter the ant's body, then produce chemicals which act on the ant's brain and alter its perception of pheromones.

The infected ant exhibits irregularly timed full body convulsions that dislodge it to the forest floor.

(The fungus then) causes the ant to climb a plant and, upon reaching the top, to clamp its mandibles around a leaf , securing it firmly to what will be its final resting place.

Why does the ant perform the unlikely act of climbing up a stalk and biting the leaf? Because, to whatever degree an ant may be said to have desires and free will, these are affected by chemicals secreted by the fungus - and affected not just generally but in a very specific way.

Consider the rabies virus.

Signs and symptoms may include paralysis, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, and hallucinations, progressing to delirium. The person may have hydrophobia.

Saliva production is greatly increased, and attempts to drink, or even the intention or suggestion of drinking, may cause excruciatingly painful spasms of the muscles in the throat and larynx.

The virus multiplies and assimilates in the salivary glands of the infected animal for the purpose of further transmission through biting, and the infected animal's ability to transmit the virus will reduce significantly if he can swallow his saliva with/without external source of water.

All of these physical and emotional symptoms are caused by the virus, to increase the virus's survival. The less water the victim drinks, and the more the dog or bat bites, the more rabies virus are transmitted to other creatures

How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy

A parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, excreted by cats in their feces, is the microbe that causes toxoplasmosis.

Healthy children and adults usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells-or at least that's the standard medical wisdom.

But if Jaroslav Flegr is right, the "latent" parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents.

He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia.

All of the above serves as an introduction into one of the most fascinating issues of Scientific American Magazine I ever have read. The March, 2015 issue contains a full section titled, "The Microbiome."

The essence of this series of articles is that the trillions of organisms occupying our body, secrete chemicals that affect us in myriad ways, not just our physical state, but our mental states - our thoughts, our beliefs, our desires, our emotions.

These organisms aren't simply lying there, waiting for food and warmth. They are active and evolving for their own survival. And they evolve faster than we do.

Some kill us; some protect us - and some cause us to think in certain ways.

Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut

Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind.

Microbes may have their own evolutionary reasons for communicating with the brain. They need us to be social, says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, so that they can spread through the human population.

Scientists use germ-free mice to study how the lack of a microbiome - or selective dosing with particular bacteria - alters behavior and brain function.

When bred in sterile conditions, germ-free mice lacking in intestinal microbes also lack an ability to recognize other mice with whom they interact.

In other studies, disruptions of the microbiome induced mice behavior that mimics human anxiety, depression and even autism.

A research team at McMaster University in Ontario discovered that if they colonized the intestines of one strain of germ-free mice with bacteria taken from the intestines of another mouse strain, the recipient animals would take on aspects of the donor's personality.

Paul Patterson, a neuroscientist and developmental biologist at the California Institute of Technology, (noticed) that women who suffer from a high, prolonged fever during pregnancy are up to seven times more likely to have a child with autism.

To investigate, Patterson induced flulike symptoms in pregnant mice with a viral mimic: an immunostimulant called polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid.

The offspring of Patterson's MIA mice displayed all three of the core features of human autism: limited social interactions, a tendency toward repetitive behavior and reduced communication.

The human gut microbiome evolved to help us in myriad ways: Gut microbes make vitamins, break dietary fiber into digestible short-chain fatty acids and govern normal functions in the immune system.

Strains of Bifidobacterium, which is common in the gut flora of many mammals, including humans were more effective than Lexapro at treating anxious and depressive behavior in a lab mouse strain known for pathological anxiety.

This brief summary cannot do justice to the reports printed in Scientific American, but together they certainly lead to the conclusion that our microbiome, both inside our skin and on the surface, effect our emotions and our beliefs - which brings us to the question, how profound is this effect?

Surely, humans believe and feel some very strange things. We believe that war and killing are appropriate solutions to various problems.

We believe a magical, unseen, perfect being sees and directs our every move, understands our every thought, hears all our prayers, and maintains places of reward and punishment in an afterlife, for committing the very acts the being directs. (God).

We believe devices made for killing actually improve our safety. (Guns).

We worship or hate people we never have met, nor with whom we have had any interaction. (Star athletes or people of a different color).

We help a homeless, jobless stranger in the street, but urge the deportation of those who neither are homeless nor jobless. (Immigrants).

We believe the statements of those we know to be liars (politicians).

These belief ironies and many others, are directed by our emotions. It's the old, "We believe what we want to believe" syndrome. But why do we want to believe?

Could it be that the selfishness or selflessness we feel is contagious, a result of "catching" our microbiome from the people around us?

Scientists attribute this "groupthink" to the psychological influence of human sociability, but could the microbiome be the real cause?

Could, for instance, bigots' opinions about race result not just from psychological peer influence but from hosting the locally prevalent microbiome?

And when people refuse to accept logic and fact - and not just refuse, but angrily refuse - could this be their microbiome speaking?

Is that why Libertarians and Tea Party followers cannot be convinced about the facts of Monetary Sovereignty?

Is it that they simply cannot help themselves, because their microbiome is immune to reason?

Mitchell's laws:

  • Those, who do not understand the differences between Monetary Sovereignty and monetary non-sovereignty, do not understand economics.
  • The more federal budgets are cut and taxes increased, the weaker an economy becomes.
  • Liberals think the purpose of government is to protect the poor and powerless from the rich and powerful. Conservatives think the purpose of government is to protect the rich and powerful from the poor and powerless.
  • Austerity is the government's method for widening the gap between rich and poor.
  • Until the 99% understand the need for federal deficits, the upper 1% will rule.
  • To survive long term, a monetarily non-sovereign government must have a positive balance of payments.
  • Everything in economics devolves to motive, and the motive is the Gap.

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