Poor digestive health linked to serious mental health conditions and neurological diseases, including depression and Parkinson’s Disease.
According to scientists, gut microbiota not only play a vital role in normal digestion and protect us against infection, but also affect our behaviour, thoughts and mood. Furthermore, recent research reveals increasing links between gut microbiota and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety as well as nervous system diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease1 and Alzheimer’s2.
As World Digestive Health Day is marked across the globe today, Europe’s largest digestive health body, United European Gastroenterology (UEG), is urging people to be more symptom-aware to ensure early diagnosis and treatment, helping to prevent serious mental and neurological conditions associated with poor gut health.
A study examining the link between gut microbiota and Parkinson’s Disease revealed significantly higher (54% v 8%) small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in patients with Parkinson’s Disease than in control patients and that gastrointestinal motility abnormalities were the most likely explanation.1
“We have known for a long time that the brain can send signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms,” explains Professor Lakatos, digestive disease expert and UEG spokesperson. “We now know that signals can travel in the opposite direction, so it is feasible that an unhealthy gut can adversely affect the state of our mind.”
Why the stomach has a ‘mind’ of its own
The human intestine contains about 100 trillion micro-organisms – ten times the total number of cells in the entire human body. The activities of these organisms are controlled by what is sometimes referred to as the “little brain”, a network of nerve cells that line the intestine and help to co-ordinate gut function.
Digestive disease experts believe that consuming a healthy diet, including foods that boost ‘good bacteria’ and encourage efficient digestion, may have an especially positive effect on mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
“Although research in this area is still in its early stages, studies suggest that microbiota hold the key to improving the treatment of a wide range of mental and neurological conditions and good gut health is essential for optimal mental and physical wellbeing,” says Prof. Lakatos.
 Gabrielli M1, Bonazzi P, Scarpellini E, Bendia E, Lauritano EC, Fasano A, Ceravolo MG, Capecci M, Rita Bentivoglio A, Provinciali L, Tonali PA, Gasbarrini A. Prevalence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord. 2011 Apr;26(5):889-92
 Surjyadipta Bhattacharjee, Walter J.Lukiw. Alzheimer’s disease nd the microbiome. Front Cell Neurosci. 2013; 7: 153.
Bested AC et al. Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances: part III – convergence toward clinical trials. Gut Pathogens 2013;5:4. Available at: http://www.gutpathogens.com/content/pdf/1757-4749-5-4.pdf
Notes to Editors
United European Gastroenterology is a professional non-profit organisation combining all the leading European societies concerned with digestive diseases. Together, its member societies represent over 22,000 specialists, working across medicine, surgery, paediatrics, gastrointestinal oncology and endoscopy.
Find out more about UEG’s work at www.ueg.eu
Available for interview
Peter Lakatos, MD, PhD - Associate Professor and Head of Gastroenterology at the Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary.
World Digestive Health Day – 29th May 2014
This year’s theme is “Gut Microbes – Importance in Health and Disease”.
Healthy Gut Advice
- Eat plenty of fibre, including beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruit and
vegetables, all of which feed good bacteria in our gut.
- Limit sugar, processed foods, animal fats and animal protein as these provide food for unhealthy microbiota.
- Limit the use of antibiotics, acid blockers, and anti-inflammatories where possible as these can cause an imbalance in gut flora.
- Drink plenty of water, avoid fizzy drinks, limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Cut down on fatty, spicy or acidic foods as these can be hard to digest and irritate the stomach.
- Boost your ‘friendly bacteria’ every day by taking a probiotic supplement or eating live yoghurt.