New study suggests happiness may help you with this common health issue

Gut health is no joke, but it turns out laughing at jokes, or generally being happy, may be linked to a healthier gut. There are a lot of things that affect the health of your gut. Surely the food you eat plays a role, but drinks like coffee and wine also have affect of how your gut functions.

A new study suggests that simply happiness, or the lack of it, can affect the way your gut function.  The study, published in Cell Host and Microbe, takes a look at the way that “happiness chemicals” in your body interact with gut bacterium.

Happiness may help your gut health

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the UT Southwestern Medical Center, indicates that serotonin, which is the brain chemical responsible to feelings of happiness and well being, can protect people against serious gut infections.

While serotonin is widely thought of as a brain chemical, about 90% of it is actually produced in the gastrointestinal tract.

Gut infections occur when pathogenic bacteria, or the “bad” bacteria, make their way into the gastrointestinal tract. As gut bacteria are susceptible to their living environment, the study’s authors wondered if levels of serotonin that were being made in the gut affected the pathogenic bacteria in any way.

How did researchers study the relationship?

In order to study the relationship, the researchers focused on Escherichia coli O157, which is a type of bacteria known to cause semi-frequent outbreaks of food-borne infections. Samples of this bacteria were grown by a team in the lab setting and subsequently exposed to serotonin. After this exposure, the researchers conducted gene expression tests, which revealed that the serotonin significantly reduced the expression of genes within the bacteria that cause infections.

When human cells were exposed to the serotonin-weakened bacteria, that bacteria was no longer able to inflict “infection-associated lesions,” meaning the added serotonin caused the bacteria to lose its ability to produce an infection.

In order to test their theory on living subjects, the researchers gathered a group of mice together to study how serotonin influenced the viral capabilities of Citrobacter rodentium, which is close to the rodent equivalent of e.coli.

In the study, some of the mice were genetically modified to produce more serotonin than normal and others were modified to produce less than normal. The mice that were producing more serotonin were much less likely to develop a citrobacter rodentium infection after being exposed to the bacterium. On the other hand, the mice with low levels of serotonin developed serious infections, and many even died.

Additional experiments allowed the research team to pinpoint the serotonin receptor within both E. coli and C. rodentium as a protein known as CpxA. This protein is common among gut bacteria, which suggests that serotonin has a big effect on overall gut health.

“Treating bacterial infections, especially in the gut, can be very difficult,” said Dr.   Vanessa Sperandio, the study leader and a professor of microbiology and biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center, in a statement. “If we could repurpose Prozac or other drugs in the same class, it could give us a new weapon to fight these challenging infections.”

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.