DALLAS — Positivity isn’t always easily achieved, but a new study provides yet another reason we should all do our best to inject a bit of optimism into our mindsets. Researchers from the UT Southwestern Medical Center have found evidence that serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of happiness and well being, may be able to stop harmful intestinal pathogens from causing deadly infections.
Essentially, the study indicates that happiness can protect against serious gut infections.
Serotonin is almost always thought of as a brain chemical, but about 90% of it is actually produced in the gastrointestinal tract. There’s also trillions of bacteria living in the stomach as well, and while the vast majority of those bacteria are good and beneficial, some pathogenic bacteria also make their way to the gastrointestinal tract. When this happens, it can lead to serious and sometimes fatal gut infections.
Gut bacteria, like any other form of bacteria, are quite susceptible to their living environment. With this in mind, the study’s authors pondered if levels of serotonin being made in the gut affected these pathogens in any way.
To study this possible relationship, researchers focused on Escherichia coli O157, a type of bacteria known to cause semi-frequent outbreaks of sometimes deadly food-borne infections. Some samples of these bacteria were grown by the team in a lab setting and then exposed to serotonin. Notably, gene expression tests conducted after this exposure reveal that the serotonin had indeed significantly reduced the “expression” of genes within the bacteria that cause infections.
Furthermore, when human cells were exposed to the serotonin-weakened bacteria, that bacteria was no longer capable of inflicting “infection-associated lesions.” So, just add some serotonin and the bacteria loses its ability to produce an infection.