From Gut to Brain: The Science Behind Stress Resilience

By 2030, stress-related healthcare costs and missed work are expected to cost the global economy about $6 trillion each year. This enormous amount highlights the importance of finding better ways to handle stress and build stress resilience. Resilience, which is the ability to recover from difficult situations, is crucial. It means accepting change, managing negative feelings, staying determined, and bouncing back after stressful events.

A New Approach: Studying Healthy Resilient People

A recent study published in Nature Mental Health looked at the gut and brain of healthy people who handle stress well rather than focusing on those with conditions like anxiety and depression. The goal was to understand how the gut microbiome in these resilient individuals contributes to coping with different types of stress, such as discrimination and social isolation.

How the Study Was Done

Researchers surveyed 116 people (71 women) about their resilience, asking about their trust in instincts and acceptance of change. They divided the participants into two groups: one who rated high on the resiliency scale (44 participants) and one who rated low (72 participants). Each person had an MRI scan and provided a stool sample two or three days before their scan. They also filled out detailed diet questionnaires for the week before the scan.

What They Found: Brain and Emotional Differences

The study found that people in the high resilience group were less anxious and depressed, less judgmental, and had better emotional control and thinking skills. Their brain scans showed less activity in areas linked to negative feelings and fear. Specifically, they had less brain connectivity in regions associated with negative moods, like the right subcentral gyrus and the left superior parietal lobule. This might mean these areas are less active in processing distressing emotions. They also had less connectivity in the hippocampus, a brain region that, along with the amygdala, is involved in fear and anxiety, suggesting a unique brain pattern that helps them manage stress better.

The Default Mode Network (DMN)

The resilient group also had normal connectivity between the default mode network (DMN) and the brainstem reticular formation (RF), which helps with monitoring and reacting to stress appropriately. DMN connectivity is crucial for recovering from trauma and bouncing back from adversity. Interestingly, this connectivity was related to the presence of certain gut bacteria, suggesting that the gut microbiome might help manage stress by influencing brain activity.

Differences in the Gut Microbiome

The high resilience group had different gut microbiome activity compared to the low resilience group. Their gut bacteria produced substances that reduced inflammation and supported a strong gut barrier, promoting a healthy balance in the gut and effective communication between the gut and brain. This balance is vital for maintaining good mental health.

Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) and Resilience

The resilient individuals had higher levels of certain substances in their gut that help maintain gut health and reduce inflammation. These substances called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), are linked to lower anxiety levels. This finding suggests that resilience might influence gut function to produce these beneficial substances, helping to manage stress.

Conclusion: Resilience Involves the Whole Body

This study shows that resilience is not just about the brain but also involves the gut microbiome. The resilient group had a gut microbiome that could handle disruptions better, thanks to anti-inflammatory substances that support brain health.

While the study didn’t establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it suggests that diet and gut health might play a role in building resilience. More research is needed to explore whether dietary changes, prebiotics, probiotics, or other interventions can improve stress coping skills. Existing studies already indicate that such dietary interventions can reduce anxiety and depression, pointing to resilience as a combination of mental and physical well-being.


An, E., Delgadillo, D. R., Yang, J., Agarwal, R., Labus, J. S., Pawar, S., Leitman, M., Kilpatrick, L. A., Bhatt, R. R., Vora, P., Vaughan, A., Dong, T. S., & Gupta, A. (2024). Stress-resilience impacts psychological wellbeing as evidenced by brain–gut microbiome interactions. Nature Mental Health, 1–16.

Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., Castle, D., Dash, S., Mihalopoulos, C., Chatterton, M. L., Brazionis, L., Dean, O. M., Hodge, A. M., & Berk, M. (2017). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 15(1), 23.

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