Gut feelings

A team of researchers in Houston link the bacteria of the gut with both obesity and social behaviour.

The study shows that there is a clear relationship between what’s going on in your gut and social interaction. In this study, a single species of bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri, was responsible.

The researchers used a test called ribosomal-RNA sequencing to identify exactly which bacteria the mice’s faeces contained. The obese mice and their pups had nine times less Lactobacillus reuteri.

Since previous studies show that this bacterium encouraged the release of oxytocin (by working as a microbial symbiont), the researchers investigated further. They gave live Lactobacillus reuteri to some of the offspring of the obese mothers but withheld it from others and watched the behaviour of both groups.

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide hormone. It is responsible for creating and maintaining many social functions in mammals, such as social memory and attachment, sexual and maternal behaviour, aggression, bonding and trust, learning ability, axiety, feeding behaviour and pain cognition.

It’s also a regulator of the metabolism and immune system. With stronger social bonds and immunity, mammals with healthy levels of oxytocin are therefore more successful in evolutionary terms.

The pups given the live bacteria developed normally, while the control mice developed social problems, therefore reinforcing the idea that Lactobacillus reuteri promotes the release of oxytocin.

What these studies demonstrate is a gut microbe-brain-immune axis, transmitted through the vagus nerve. So, a healthy gut populated with good bacteria means a healthier body and mind, a strong immune system and improved social behaviour.

Good bacteria and probiotics make up a crucial part of our diet. Though they can be taken as a supplement, they’re found in many fermented foods & drinks. Live yogurt or saurkraut and kimchito eat Kefir and Kombucha to drink. Try some and find the ones you like 🙂


Read our earlier posts Do you have the guts to eat bacteria? Part 1 and Part 2.


D. Cochran (2013), ‘The role of oxytocin in psychiatric disorders: A review of biological and therapeutic research findings’, Harvard Rev Psychiatry Sep-Oct; 21(5)

A. Romano (2015), ‘From Autism to Eating Disorders and More: The Role of Oxytocin in Neuropsychiatric Disorders’, Frontiers in Neuroscience, 9:497

T. Poutahidis (2013), ‘Microbial Symbionts Accelerate Would Healing via Neuropeptide Hormone Oxytocin’, PLoS, 8(10)