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Scientists are still trying to figure out exactlywhich microbes make up the human microbiome, but it’s estimated to contain more than 1,000 species and 7,000 distinct strains of bacteria. Your gut is never alone.

It’s also not working in isolation. What’s becoming more and more clear is that the microbes in the gut are crucial for the brain and mental health. Ted Dinan is an expert in this field, and he became so almost by accident. It was the early 2000s, and he’d recently taken a position at University College Cork, a place that he said was “known for its heavy-hitting microbiologists.” Some of these microbiologists were talking about a type of bacteria they described as “probiotic” — conferring some kind of health benefit. As a psychiatrist, Dinan thought it would be interesting to see what happened when he fed these probiotics to some rats he was studying in an experimental model of mental health. Lo and behold, rats given the probiotics expressed fewer signs of anxiety and depression. Dinan and his colleagues would go on to coin the term “psychobiotics” for microbes that can benefit the brain or behavior.

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Image: By Joe Lange, Schulenburg Lab – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41305291

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