Can feeding your gut-brain axis produce serotonin?Protecting your body’s gut-brain axis—the connection linking your brain, emotions and intestines—is very important to your good physical and emotional well-being.

Taking a multi-strain probiotic can serve as a vital step to enhance the diversity of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Guarding that diversity and your gut-brain axis is critical for your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that works as a neurotransmitter to send messages from one part of the brain to another. In fact, scientists estimate that 80-90 percent of the body’s serotonin may be produced in the gut.

Important research by Caltech scientists, published in the medical journal Cell, has linked the production of peripheral serotonin in the gut by enterochromaffin (EC) cells to specific bacteria.

Specific gut bacteria connected to serotonin production

First, researchers investigated whether gut bacteria affected serotonin by comparing its production in normal and germ-free mice. No surprise, EC cells from germ-free animals produced some 60 percent less serotonin versus normal mice.

When gut bacteria was taken from normal mice and transplanted into germ-free mice, serotonin levels of germ-free animals rebounded.

Then, scientists tested gut bacteria (single species and groups) to determine which species work with EC cells to produce serotonin. They identified some 20 species of spore-forming bacteria that boosted levels of serotonin in germ-free mice.

Also, normal mice treated with these species experienced improved gastrointestinal motility and alterations in the activation of blood platelets (they use serotonin to promote clotting too).

“EC cells are rich sources of serotonin in the gut. What we saw in this experiment is that they appear to depend on microbes to make serotonin, or at least a large portion of it,” said Jessica Yano, one of the study’s authors in a press release.

Previously, research has concluded some strains of bacteria were solely responsible for producing serotonin, but this study saw things differently. Instead, specific bacteria normally present in the gut interact with intestinal cells to generate serotonin, said Yano.

These interactions between gut bacteria and intestinal cells may not be limited to producing serotonin, said Dr. Elaine Hsiao, research assistant professor of biology and biological engineering and senior author of the study.

“We identified a group of bacteria that, aside from increasing serotonin, likely has other effects yet to be explored. Also, there are conditions where an excess of peripheral serotonin appears to be detrimental.”

More natural serotonin boosters

Boost your levels of serotonin without depression medication, here’s four steps that can help without taking a drug:

  1. Exposing your body to bright light every day, a treatment for seasonal affective disorder in the winter, may be a worthwhile alternative to treat depression year-round.
  2. Get your body moving with daily exercise.
  3. Modify your diet by cutting back on caffeine and foods made of simple carbs (white bread, white rice and sweets), and eating more protein and brightly colored veggies every day.
  4. A recent University of Michigan study cited probiotics as a way to reduce stress by reversing intestinal inflammation.