Your body is home to trillions of microbes. Most are harmless, but many play an active role in your health. A large portion of helpful bacteria can be found in your stomach and intestines, ensuring healthy digestion and metabolism so that you can get as much nutrition from your food as possible. However, growing research suggests that there may be an important connection between the microbes in your gastrointestinal tract and your brain, called the microbiome gut-brain axis. Let’s take a closer look at the gut-brain axis and the role colostrum may play in its function.
What is the Gut-Brain Axis?
Scientists have understood that the gut and the brain have some sort of relationship. The gut-brain axis refers to a bidirectional link between enteric nervous system (ENS) and central nervous system (CNS). The central nervous system comprises the brain and the spinal cord. The enteric nervous system comprises a web of over 500 million neutrons spread over your entire digestive tract. In fact, the complexities of the enteric nervous system have led to many calling it the “second brain.” The ENS is relatively self-sufficient and capable of controlling essentially all functions of the digestive tract on its own. The enteric nervous system and central nervous system do still connect via the vagus nerve, which is the 10th cranial nerve.
While researchers previously understood that there was crosstalk between the enteric and central nervous systems, they ignored the potential influence of the body’s microbes because of the blood-brain barrier. This barrier essentially keeps bacteria, viruses, and germs out of your brain, but more research is suggesting that the microbes in your gut do actually affect your brain, and vice versa.
Effects of Microbiota on the Brain
Microbiota refers to the population of microbes in a specific ecosystem, in this case, the microbiota of your gut. The exact mechanisms of action are still being researched, but studies show that the gut microbiota interact with the gut-brain axis via the vagus nerve, endocrine system, immune system, and metabolic system.
Although the mechanisms still require more study, the effects are a little easier to see. Early studies from the 1970s found that stress affected the microbes living in the guts of germ-free mice. One study found that germ-free mice exposed to stressors had more coliform bacteria and less lactobacilli bacteria. Lactobacilli are the helpful bacteria known to benefit digestive health.
Some studies also suggest that gut bacteria may affect certain behavioral traits. For example, in one study in 2011, germ-free mice described as initially shy were transplanted with gut microbiota from more “adventurous” mice and exhibited more exploratory behavior.
Dysbiosis, a microbial disturbance or imbalance, in the gut can result in a variety of gastrointestinal disorders, including ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. One study found a strong correlation between disorders caused by dysbiosis and the presence of certain mood disorders. Interestingly, studies also show that the central nervous system’s response to stressors can affect your gut and lead to IBS or ulcerative colitis. If you’ve ever been extremely stressed, you probably know the digestive troubles that tend to follow suit.
There are also numerous studies showing that your gut microbes create a wide range of compounds and neurotransmitters that affect your brain despite the blood-brain barrier. For example, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating your mood, particularly feelings of happiness and general wellbeing. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to clinical depression, and many drugs used in the treatment of depression and anxiety usually involve modulating serotonin production. However, a vast majority of serotonin in your body is not made in your brain. Up to 80 percent of serotonin is produced in your gut, and the types and amount of microbes in your gut can have an effect on the amount of serotonin you produce.
What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is a milk-like fluid that is produced by mammals in the first few days after giving birth, prior to the appearance of true milk. Colostrum is packed with all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) as well as an expansive mix of vitamins, minerals, and antibodies that may help your body fight viruses, bacteria, and other microbes that cause diseases.
Colostrum and the Gut
There are a variety of factors that can affect the microbes in your gut just in your environment alone, but your diet may play the most immediate role. Colostrum has been shown to support several functions within the gut. Thanks to coffee, alcohol, and a variety of environmental factors, many people tend to have intestinal hyperpermeability, commonly known as leaky gut syndrome, wherein disease-causing microbes, toxins, and undigested food proteins enter the body through the permeable gut lining, leading to illness. Chronic stress has been shown to alter intestinal permeability and gut inflammation. Inflammation from leaky gut may also prevent proper nutrient absorption. Over time, leaky gut can lead to irritable bowel syndrome and other serious health problems.
Colostrum may help bolster the intestinal lining by reducing permeability of the gut lining. Colostrum can also help with inflammation in the intestines through several key components, including:
- Growth factors, which can help to heal and prevent further damage to the intestinal lining, as well as repairing muscle, bone, and connective tissue.
- Lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein that helps to neutralize pathogens that trigger inflammation by inhibiting their replication and growth.
- PRPs (proline-rich polypeptides), which help to stimulate an underactive immune system or inhibit an overactive immune system.
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), a micronutrient that may help to minimize pain and heal wounds.
All of this may have an effect on gut bacteria, ensuring that your GI tract maintains the careful balance of your microbiome and regulates the dynamic of your gut-brain axis.
There is still plenty of research and study to be done to truly understand how microbiomes specifically affect the gut-brain axis and how you might be able to manipulate your gut microbes. However, helping your gut bacteria through the use of colostrum, probiotics, or other supplements may support your gastrointestinal health, and whether you’re stressed or depressed, not having to worry about stomach issues can go a long way to improving your mental health.