Earlier research demonstrated that a big part of our emotions is influenced by the nerves in our gut. A newly discovered connection between the immune system, the brain, and social behavior furthers the association between the gut and mental health.
Lymphatic vessels (a ‘highway’ of vessels that are part of the immune system and serve as a connection between cells and blood) have been discovered in the brain. Previously it was thought there was no lymphatic system in the brain and, therefore, no physical connection between the immune system and the brain. Moreover, it has been discovered that this connection allows the immune system (much of which is in the gut) to influence social behavior.
This research may help in finding treatments for a variety of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism, migraines, brain and spinal cord injuries, and even multiple sclerosis.
The relationship between the gut and the brain suggests we should pay more attention to gut health, including what we (and are pets) eat, the importance of pre- and probiotics, and avoidance of unnecessary antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals and environmental exposures that affect gut health. The impact of the gut on mental health also explains why people and pets with chronic gastrointestinal conditions may be more prone to mental health issues.
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It takes more than good genes for good health. This point is dramatically demonstrated in this short video showing two mice from the same mother, but different litters. The two mice are genetically identical, have eaten the same diet since birth, and were raised in exactly the same environment. The only difference is the diet the mother ate during her pregnancy! Not only do these mice look different, but along with being obese, the yellow one is at higher risk of developing diabetes and cancer. In contrast, the brown mouse is leaner and less likely to develop these diseases.
The effect of environment on gene expression is called epigenetics. Genes can be likened to computer hardware and epigenetics to the software. Put another way, DNA has the instructions; epigenetics is how those instructions are read.
The importance of epigenetics goes beyond diet. Chemicals from our environment as well as chemicals produced by our bodies bind to our DNA every second of every day and affect how our genes are read. These chemicals determine if the gene is turned on or off – they even determine how much it is turned on. This is why we at arf think that good nutrition, minimizing exposure to potential toxins (including vaccines, medications, and environmental toxins) and joyful living are so important to achieving and maintaining good health.