Large food corporations dont typically invest money in things without expecting theyre going to make money from them.
This was what sprang to mind when I read that Nestle is investing almost $15 million in microbiome research - looking to gain a greater understanding of how gut bacteria affects mental and physical health.
The microbiome - the population of bugs that live on and in us, and that is unique to each of us - is getting a lot of attention. We each carry around about 3kg of bacteria. They outnumber the cells in our bodies by 10 to one. Its thought the bacteria in our gut, in particular, can play a role in many aspects of our overall health.
The types and variety of gut bacteria we have may influence whether we get eczema, hay fever, asthma or food allergies.
The state of our gut bacteria could influence our risk of getting type 1 or type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disease, skin disorders, depression and anxiety.
The link with mental health is a particularly interesting one. Known as gastroneuroenterology, this is an exciting emerging area of study. Scientists talk about the gut-brain axis, suggesting these systems talk to each other via hormones, metabolic products or direct neural connections. We know gut bacteria play a crucial role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps stabilise mood and emotion.