How can boosting bacteria in your body improve your brain health? Called the “second brain” by leading scientists, a healthy balance of flora in the gut helps to determine whether you’ll have a great memory and a strong resistance to brain disease.
And what happens in the gut plays a significant role in your brain health. Restoring beneficial bacteria and some healthy yeasts in your intestines (yes, some yeasts are beneficial, just not the ones that cause yeast infections) can go a long way toward protecting your mental faculties and preventing brain diseases altogether.
Frequently when I tell people about this connection between intestinal and brain health—what is known as the gut-brain axis, they tell me that they are covered because they eat yogurt on a regular basis. While yogurt may (or may not) help boost intestinal flora depending on whether it contains any live cultures at all, we need to give our guts a lot more than yogurt to help us establish a strong and healthy brain for life.
Let’s explore some of the exciting research into the link between beneficial microbes in our gut and our overall brain health.
Some probiotics actually function as antioxidants within the body, which can not only reduce the effects of free radical damage and aging, it is especially good news in the prevention and treatment of brain diseases.
Since the brain plays a significant role in whether we suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, probiotics may also be helpful in addressing these serious health concerns. In animal studies conducted by the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum eliminated anxiety and normalized behavior. It appeared to work by reducing the excitability of the nerves in the gut that connect through the vagus nerve to the central nervous system, and in doing so, eliminated anxiety.
Hungarian researchers found that intestinal inflammation is one of the key factors involved in depression and that treating the inflammation with probiotics (along with B complex vitamins, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids) reduced depressive symptoms.
Additional French research demonstrates the power of boosting specific strains of probiotics to boost mood and psychological health. They found that healthy study participants experienced reduced psychological stress, depression, anxiety, and anger and hostility, as well as improved problem-solving skills when taking the Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days.
While you can still enjoy yogurt if you are already doing so, please keep in mind that the above strains are not typically found in yogurt. I’m not aware of any yogurt that contains the best brain-boosting strains.
Take a probiotic supplement containing proven strains of brain-boosting probiotics such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus helveticus on a daily basis. Store your probiotics in the refrigerator, and take them on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning with a large glass of water tends to work well for most people.
Additionally, kimchi—the national dish of Korea which is typically a fermented mixture of cabbage, chilis, and garlic—frequently contains a much more diverse group of beneficial microbes than yogurt, making it an excellent choice as a brain boosting food. Some types contain fish sauce so if you’re vegan be sure to choose a fish sauce-free option. It is delicious on sandwiches, over brown rice, or as a side-dish to many foods. Be sure to choose kimchi that hasn’t been pasteurized to ensure the cultures are still intact.