Probiotics and the Gut-Brain Axis

Probiotics, or “beneficial bacteria that confer a health benefit” (catchy right?), have been one of the fastest growing market segments for dietary supplements and health products of late and have also been receiving a lot more research attention. Pub Med shows there have been nearly 1400 research papers published in 2016 alone on the topic.

Most people know probiotics as supporting digestive and immune health. One of the more recent areas of interest though has been looking at how these microscopic critters influence our mental health. It sounds crazy at first. Bacteria in my gut are influencing my mood? Are they secretly behind my chocolate cravings as well? What else are they influencing? But I digress…existential crises aside, there is a scientific theory with a growing body of research that probiotics in our digestive tract do in fact have effects on our moods and thoughts. How? The gut-brain axis is the term used for a signaling system that includes the central nervous system, neuroendocrine system, enteric nervous system and the vagus nerve, as well as the gut “microbiota”, or probiotics. This gut-brain system allows “cross-talk” between our brains and digestive system. There are, according to recent re-estimates, 1.3 bacterial cells to every 1 human cell in the body. They number in the trillions. One of the things that probiotics do is secrete neurotransmitters (like GABA, serotonin, and acetylcholine) that are absorbed into the bloodstream and then can influence our central nervous system. Additionally, they ferment fiber into short chain fatty acids that support colon health and have anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, it’s really a symbiotic relationship where we provide food and shelter and they support our health. Most of the research in this area is based on animal studies and some preliminary clinical trials but a few “gold standard” randomized controlled studies have been done and no doubt more are to follow. So far, these preliminary results support the theory that probiotics can have a positive influence on our stress response, anxiety levels, and depression.

Some of the results from clinical trials in humans so far have yielded results like:

• Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum significantly reducing psychological distress compared to a placebo group. • A multi-species probiotic reduced negative thoughts associated with sad mood over 4 weeks in a placebo controlled trial. • Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species taken for 12 weeks had a moderate but significant improvement in the score of elderly Alzheimer's patients on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scale, a standard measure of cognitive impairment. Research has shown so far that bacterial diversity in our gut is also associated with lower markers of inflammation, less obesity, and less incidence of metabolic diseases. All of this suggests that we should pay a lot more attention to our gut “eco-system” in terms of what we eat (think fermented foods, more fiber, and probiotic supplementation), our antibiotic use, and getting the balance right with C-section use—anything basically that could contribute to “dysbiosis” and reduced diversity of our microbiome.

Be sure to check out the Udo's Choice line of age- and condition-specific probiotics (US/CA). Udo’s Choice® Probiotic Blends are tailored to meet your needs. The type and amount of probiotic bacterial strains needed for best results will change at different stages of life and under different health conditions. Furthermore, all 7 blends of Udo’s probiotics use only medicinal strains of friendly, probiotic bacteria. So, by using the right probiotic supplement, you can take a proactive approach to maintaining gastrointestinal wellbeing, a core foundation of overall good health.*

References/Further Reading Akbari, E. et al. Effect of Probiotic Supplementation on Cognitive Function and Metabolic Status in Alzheimer's Disease: A Randomized, Double-Blind and Controlled Trial. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2016; 8. Carabotti, M. et al. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of Gastroenterology (2015) 28, 203-209. Dinan TG, Stanton C, Cryan JF. Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic. Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Nov 15;74(10):720-6. Mayer, E. et al. Gut/brain axis and the microbiota. JCI. Volume 125. Number 3. March 2015. Sender, R. et al. Are We Really Vastly Outnumbered? Revisiting the Ratio of Bacterial to Host Cells in Humans. Cell. Volume 164, Issue 3, p337–340, 28 January 2016. Steenbergen, L. A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 48 (2015) 258–264.
Robert’s interest in herbs and health began in university and was further influenced by several years of work and travel throughout India, Nepal, Indonesia, and Japan. He has completed a BA in Communications from SFU and completed 3 years of study with Dominion Herbal College resulting in a Master Herbalist diploma. His areas of interest include research into adaptogens, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. He currently works with Flora as a product information specialist in the Product Information Department. He has written articles on herbs and wellness for publications in the US and Canada like alive, Taste for Life, Tonic, and Viva magazine.