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What Makes for Resilient People? The Brain & the Gut Hold Clues
  • Posted June 21, 2024

What Makes for Resilient People? The Brain & the Gut Hold Clues

Can you trust your gut?

UCLA researchers have shown that people who rank high in resilience -- meaning they accept change positively and follow their instincts -- have the bacteria living in their bellies in part to thank for it. 

Their new study looked at the brains and gut microbiomes of people who cope effectively with different types of stress, including social isolation and discrimination. Finding ways to prevent stress can help prevent heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes, researchers explained.

"If we can identify what a healthy resilient brain and microbiome look like, then we can develop targeted interventions to those areas to reduce stress," said senior study author Arpana Gupta, co-director of the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center.

For the study, Gupta's team surveyed 116 people about their resiliency and divided them into two groups -- one ranked high in resilience, the other ranked low. Participants gave stool samples and underwent MRI brain scans.

The study found that folks who were highly resilient had brain activity in regions associated with emotional regulation and better thinking skills than the group with low resilience. 

"When a stressor happens, often we go to this aroused fight-or-flight response, and this impairs the breaks in your brain," Gupta said in a UCLA news release.

"The highly resilient individuals in the study were found to be better at regulating their emotions, less likely to catastrophize and keep a level head," added first author Desiree Delgadillo, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA.

In addition to brain differences, something unique was going on in their guts.

Their gut microbes excreted chemicals and exhibited gene activity tied to low levels of inflammation and a strong gut barrier. Inflammation causes what's known as a "leaky gut," which impairs the body's ability to absorb needed nutrients and block toxins. 

Researchers were surprised to find these microbiome traits in the highly resilient participants.

"Resilience truly is a whole-body phenomenon that not only affects your brain but also your microbiome and what metabolites that it is producing," Gupta said.

The findings were published June 21 in the journal Nature Mental Health.

The next step is to investigate whether an intervention to boost resilience will change activity in the brain and gut.

"We could have treatments that target both the brain and the gut that can maybe one day prevent disease," Gupta said.

More information

The American Psychological Association has a guide for building resilience.

SOURCE: UCLA Health, news release, June 21, 2024

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