Can Cognitive Health Influence Gut Health?


An upcoming study will explore how brain changes affect the gut microbiome in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

Photo © Marchal

Photo © Marchal

The gut-brain axis has generated a lot of buzz in probiotic circles in recent years, with much of the conversation focused on how improving gut health can also have beneficial effects on the brain. But an upcoming study is setting out to explore whether the effect goes both ways.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB; Buffalo, New York) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are launching a pilot study to explore how brain changes can affect the gut microbiome. The multicenter study will investigate how a cognitive behavior therapy program affects the gut's microbial composition in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

“The goal is to determine whether behavioral self-management of a painful and common gastrointestinal disorder may lead to fundamental changes in the gut microbiome, the digestive system’s bacterial ecosystem,” according to a press release from the University of Buffalo.

Kirsten Tillisch, MD, a coordinator of the study and associate professor at UCLA, says the study is a continuation of past research indicating that changes in the gut microbiome can affect cognition.

“Because the brain-gut microbiota connection is a two-way street, we believe that central or brain-directed treatments like cognitive behavior therapy may reduce GI symptoms by altering the gut microbiota,” says Tillisch. “This really has game-changing implications for how we understand the brain and its impact on the gut, and vice versa.”

The two-year, multicenter study will involve a subset of 30 patients from a larger, separate study that is investigating whether the therapy program can relieve symptoms of IBS. The smaller, upcoming study will specifically investigate if the behavioral therapy can lead to changes in the gut’s microbial composition.

“This is a unique opportunity to identify the physical basis for why behavioral treatments for IBS work,” says Jeffrey Lackner, PsyD, coordinator of the study, professor at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and director of the UB Behavioral Medicine Clinic. “It can really help us unravel some of the mystery underlying brain-gut interactions as they relate to a major health problem like IBS. We believe that this research may lead to more focused and effective treatments for IBS and other medical disorders for which there is no satisfactory medical cure.”


Read more:

What’s on the Microbiome Horizon?

Probiotics May Improve Mood

Microbiome and Emerging Research to Unlock Probiotic Mysteries?



Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook Magazine

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