“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates
Intestinal health has been linked to several aspects of our overall health and well-being. This is largely due to what scientists refer to as the brain-gut axis, or the two-way communication pathway that runs between the brain and the gut (Dinan, Stanton, and Cryan, 2013). Research suggests that when the bacteria in the gut are out of balance, the brain-gut communication lines are affected; this may manifest in a host of unpleasant ways, including chronic fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
One way to combat these effects is to reduce the intake of foods and drinks such as sugary starches and alcohol, which are known to feed the “bad” gut microbiota, and instead increase consumption of probiotics—the “good” bacteria strains that work to balance and maintain a healthy intestinal ecosystem (Daniells, 2009; Elsevier, 2013). Many believe that the most effective way to introduce probiotics to the body is by eating fermented foods and drinks, which contain large amounts of beneficial bacteria naturally; however, they are also available in supplement form (Gates, 2009).
Not so long ago, GoodTherapy.org discussed research that found a strong connection between specific types of gut microbiota and anxiety levels in mice. Basically, fear and anxiety increased significantly in a sampling of otherwise calm mice when the gut bacteria of anxious mice was introduced to their intestines. The gist of this discovery is that humans may be similarly susceptible to the anxiety-producing effects of specific strains of intestinal bacteria.
Another recent article published in Biological Psychiatry explored the evidence in support of using “psychobiotics,” or carefully measured doses of certain strains of probiotics, to alleviate the symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue (Dinan, Stanton, and Cryan, 2013). In the report, the researchers discuss how introducing these therapeutic doses of probiotics to the body is believed to reduce gut inflammation as well as “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity,” which may explain the relief of certain—often stress-related—psychological and physiological symptoms of depression and fatigue.
They also point to a study in which probiotics were shown to increase levels of tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, in the plasma of rats, which has furthered the belief that probiotics may be able to act as an antidepressant in people. The anti-inflammatory properties of probiotics may also have a positive effect on those experiencing depression, as depressive symptoms have been linked to the presence of proinflammatory molecules in the body (Dinan, Stanton, and Cryan, 2013).
Though it seems clear that incorporating probiotics into a balanced diet is beneficial, especially for those experiencing depression, fatigue, and anxiety, the researchers caution people to be mindful that with myriad probiotic supplements already on the market, not every formula qualifies as “psychobiotic” or medicinal grade.
- Daniells, S. (2009, June 23). Could probiotics affect behaviour? NUTRAingredients-usa.com. Retrieved from http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Could-probiotics-affect-behaviour
- Dinan, T. G., Stanton, C., and Cryan, J. F. (2013). Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic. Biological Psychiatry, 74, 720-726. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.001.
- Elsevier.com. (2013, November 14). Are probiotics a promising treatment strategy for depression? Press release. Retrieved from http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/are-probiotics-a-promising-treatment-strategy-for-depression
- Gates, D. (2009). Can probiotics affect your mood, behavior, and brain health? The Environmental Illness Resource. Retrieved from http://www.ei-resource.org/expert-columns/body-ecology-diet/can-probiotics-affect-your-mood,-behavior,-and-brain-health?/
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