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Healthy gut, healthy mind

Our new partnership with Holobiome will help us to understand the links between our gut, our brain and the food we eat.

The human body is an incredibly complex ecosystem. Recent studies suggest that for every human cell in our bodies, there is at least one bacterial cell either on our skin or inside us too.1

This enormous community of bacteria is part of an army of micro-organisms that together make up our gut microbiome and they have been shown to influence our health in many ways, including our metabolism, our susceptibility to disease and our immune response.

Now evidence is emerging to suggest the gut microbiome can also have an impact on our mental health and wellbeing. For example, 90% of our mood-elevating serotonin is found in our gut,2 highlighting the link between our gut and our brain. This connection is known as the gut–brain axis and we’re partnering with the biotechnology experts at Holobiome to explore the relationship further.

Gut feelings

The gut–brain axis allows communication between the gut and the brain via neurotransmitters – tiny chemical messengers that can have a stimulating or calming effect on the body. Through its research, Holobiome has identified the specific gut bacteria that naturally produce these neurotransmitters.

Gut - Brain Axis

Working together, our research partnership aims to use this expertise to identify the ingredients these bacteria prefer to interact with. Our long-term ambition is to add these ingredients to some of the foods and refreshment products in Unilever’s portfolio to naturally boost levels of calming neurotransmitter in the gut, creating a positive impact on our mental wellbeing.

More than 70% of consumers are concerned that stress and anxiety are having a moderate or severe impact on their health. To help combat this, consumers are increasingly seeking food and drink products that can have a positive impact on their overall health and mental wellbeing,” says Carla Hilhorst, Executive Vice President, R&D, Foods & Refreshment at Unilever. “This research offers exciting opportunities for our future food and drink formulations, enabling us to deliver healthier products.”

Carla Hilhorst, Executive Vice President, R&D, Foods and Refreshment at Unilever

As part of our Future Foods ambition, we’re already working hard to transform the global food system for the better. We’re committed to doubling the number of our products delivering positive nutrition globally by 2025, and our partnership with Holobiome will help us to make healthier options more accessible for everyone.

1

Sender, R., Fuchs, S. and Milo, R. (2016). Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533

2

Kim, D. Y. and Camilleri, M. (2000). Serotonin: a mediator of the brain–gut connection. The American journal of gastroenterology, 95(10), 2698–2709. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1572-0241.2000.03177.x