Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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Boost Bacteria to Bolster Your Brain

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.

That’s because the brain is vulnerable to free radical damage. Additionally, research at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that consuming certain strains of probiotics could actually produce many brain health benefits, including improved sensory and emotional processing.

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.

By: Michelle Schoffro Cook           October 5, 2017
source: www.care2.com
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The Natural Dietary Add-On Found To Treat Depression

64% of depression and anxiety patients saw reductions in their symptoms.

Probiotics relieve the symptoms of depression, as well as helping with digestion problems, a new study finds.

The research was carried out on people with irritable bowel syndrome who were also depressed.

Twice as many reported improvements in depression symptoms if they took a specific probiotic.

Dr Premysl Bercik, senior study author, said:

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS.
This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases.”

The probiotic is called Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001.

Half of the 44 adults with IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression took a daily dose.
Over 10 weeks those taking the probiotic showed improvements in their IBS and depression and anxiety.

64% of those taking the probiotics showed psychological improvements compared with just 32% in the placebo group.

Brain scans revealed changes in multiple brain areas related to mood control.

Dr Bercik said:

“This is the result of a decade long journey — from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain.”

The study’s first author, Dr. Maria Pinto Sanchez, added:

“The results of this pilot study are very promising but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial.”

Other studies have also shown that probiotics have promise in treating depression.

One mouse study in which they were fed Lactobacillus, found that the probiotic reversed  their depression.

Another study found that a multispecies probiotic helped stop sadness from turning into depression.

Recent studies have repeatedly underlined the importance of diet for how we feel.

The new study was published in the journal Gastroenterology (Pinto-Sanchez et al., 2017).

source: PsyBlog


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Probiotic Use Linked to Improved Symptoms of Depression

A new study is the first to show improved depression scores with a probiotic.
It adds to the whole field of microbiota-gut-brain axis,
providing evidence that bacteria affect behavior.

Probiotics may relieve symptoms of depression, as well as help gastrointestinal upset, research from McMaster University has found.

In a study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, researchers of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute found that twice as many adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported improvements from co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic than adults with IBS who took a placebo.

The study provides further evidence of the microbiota environment in the intestines being in direct communication with the brain said senior author Dr. Premysl Bercik, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster and a gastroenterologist for Hamilton Health Sciences.

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases,” he said.

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world, and is highly prevalent in Canada. It affects the large intestine and patients suffer from abdominal pain and altered bowel habits like diarrhea and constipation. They are also frequently affected by chronic anxiety or depression.

The pilot study involved 44 adults with IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. They were followed for 10 weeks, as half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, while the others had a placebo.

At six weeks, 14 of 22, or 64%, of the patients taking the probiotic had decreased depression scores, compared to seven of 22 (or 32%) of patients given placebo.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed that the improvement in depression scores was associated with changes in multiple brain areas involved in mood control.

“This is the result of a decade long journey — from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain,” said Bercik.
“The results of this pilot study are very promising but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial,” said Dr. Maria Pinto Sanchez, the first author and a McMaster clinical research fellow.

 

Materials provided by McMaster University.  Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Maria Ines Pinto-Sanchez, Geoffrey B. Hall, Kathy Ghajar, Andrea Nardelli, Carolina Bolino, Jennifer T. Lau, Francois-Pierre Martin, Ornella Cominetti, Christopher Welsh, Amber Rieder, Jenna Traynor, Caitlin Gregory, Giada De Palma, Marc Pigrau, Alexander C. Ford, Joseph Macri, Bernard Berner, Gabriela Bergonzelli, Michael G. Surette, Stephen M. Collins, Paul Moayyedi, Premysl Bercik. Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: a Pilot Study in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 2017; DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.003

ScienceDaily, 23 May 2017. 
 


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9 Health Benefits of Kefir

Kefir is all the rage in the natural health community.

It is high in nutrients and probiotics, and is incredibly beneficial for digestion and gut health.

Many people consider it to be a healthier and more powerful version of yogurt.

Here are 9 health benefits of kefir that are supported by research.

1. Kefir is a Fantastic Source of Many Nutrients

Kefir is a fermented drink, traditionally made using cow’s milk or goat’s milk.

It is made by adding kefir “grains” to milk.

These are not grains in the conventional sense, but cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that resemble a cauliflower in appearance.

Over a period of 24 hours or so, the microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir.

Then the grains are removed from the liquid, and can be used again.

So basically, kefir is the drink, but kefir grains are the “starter kit” that you use to produce the drink.

Kefir originated from parts of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. The name is derived from the Turkish word keyif, which means “feeling good” after eating.

The lactic acid bacteria turn the lactose in the milk into lactic acid, so kefir tastes sour like yogurt, but has a thinner consistency.

A 175 ml (6 oz) serving of milk kefir contains:

  • Protein: 6 grams.
  • Calcium: 20% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 20% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B12: 14% of the RDA.
  • Riboflavin (B2): 19% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 5% of the RDA.
  • A decent amount of vitamin D.

This is coming with about 100 calories, 7-8 grams of carbs and 3-6 grams of fat, depending on the type of milk that is used.

Kefir also contains a wide variety of bioactive compounds, including organic acids and peptides that contribute to its health benefits.

Dairy-free versions of kefir can be made with coconut water, coconut milk or other sweet liquids. These will not have the same nutrient profile as dairy-based kefir.

Bottom Line: Kefir is a fermented milk drink, cultured from kefir grains. It is a rich source of calcium, protein and B-vitamins.

2. Kefir is a More Powerful Probiotic Than Yogurt

Some microorganisms can have beneficial effects on health when ingested.

Known as probiotics, these microorganisms can influence health in numerous ways, including digestion, weight management and mental health .

Yogurt is the best known probiotic food in the Western diet, but kefir is actually a much more potent source.

Kefir grains contain about 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a very rich and diverse probiotic source.

Other fermented dairy products are made from far fewer strains, and don’t contain any yeasts.

Bottom Line: Kefir contains about 30 different microorganisms, making it a much more potent source of probiotics than other fermented dairy products.

3. Kefir Has Potent Antibacterial Properties

Certain probiotics in kefir are believed to protect against infections.

This includes the probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri, which is unique to kefir.

Studies show that this probiotic can inhibit the growth of various harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, Helicobacter Pylori and E. coli.

Kefiran, a type of carbohydrate present in kefir, also has antibacterial properties.

Bottom Line: Kefir contains the probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri, and the carbohydrate kefiran, both of which can protect against harmful bacteria.

4. Kefir Can Improve Bone Health and Lower The Risk of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis (“porous” bones) is characterized by deterioration of bone tissue, and is a massive problem in Western countries.

It is especially common among elderly women, and dramatically raises the risk of fractures.

Ensuring an adequate calcium intake is one of the most effective ways to improve bone health, and slow the progression of osteoporosis.

Kefir made from full-fat dairy is not only a great source of calcium, but also vitamin K2. This nutrient plays a central role in calcium metabolism, and supplementing with it has been shown to reduce the risk of fractures by as much as 81% .

Recent animal studies have shown that kefir can increase calcium absorption by bone cells. This leads to improved bone density, which should help prevent fractures.

Bottom Line: Kefir made from dairy is an excellent source of calcium. In the case of full-fat dairy, it also contains vitamin K2. These nutrients have major benefits for bone health.

5. Kefir May be Protective Against Cancer

Cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death.

It occurs when there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body, such as a tumor.

The probiotics in fermented dairy products are believed to inhibit tumor growth by reducing formation of carcinogenic compounds, as well as by stimulating the immune system.

This protective role has been demonstrated in several test tube studies.

One study found that kefir extract reduced the number of human breast cancer cells by 56%, compared with only 14% for yogurt extract.

However, take all of this with a grain of salt, as this is far from being proven in living, breathing humans.

Bottom Line: Some test tube and animal studies have shown that kefir can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. This has not been studied in people.

6. The Probiotics in it May Help With Various Digestive Problems

Probiotics such as kefir can help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut.

This is why they are highly effective for many forms of diarrhea.

There is also a lot of evidence that probiotics and probiotic foods can help with all sorts of digestive problems

This includes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers caused by H. pylori infection, and various others.

For this reason, kefir may be useful if you have problems with digestion.

Bottom Line: Probiotics like kefir can treat several forms of diarrhea. They can also lead to major improvements in various digestive diseases.

7. Kefir is Generally Well Tolerated by People Who Are Lactose Intolerant

Regular dairy foods contain a natural sugar called lactose.

Many people, especially adults, are unable to break down and digest lactose properly. This condition is called lactose intolerance.

The lactic acid bacteria in fermented dairy foods (like kefir and yogurt) turn the lactose into lactic acid, so these foods are much lower in lactose than milk.

They also contain enzymes that can help break down the lactose even further.

Because of this, kefir is generally well tolerated by people with lactose intolerance, at least when compared to regular milk.

Also keep in mind that it is possible to make kefir that is 100% lactose free, by using coconut water, fruit juice or some other non-dairy fluid.

Bottom Line: The lactic acid bacteria have already pre-digested the lactose in kefir. People with lactose intolerance can often eat kefir without problems.

8. Kefir May Improve Symptoms of Allergy and Asthma

Allergic reactions are caused by inflammatory responses against harmless environmental substances.

People with an over-sensitive immune system are more prone to allergies, which can provoke conditions like asthma.

In animal studies, kefir has been shown to suppress inflammatory responses related to allergy and asthma.

Human studies are need to better explore these effects.

9. Kefir is Easy to Make at Home

The last one is not a health benefit, but important nonetheless.

If you are unsure about the quality of store-bought kefir, then you can easily make it at home yourself.

Combined with some fresh fruit, it makes one of the healthiest and tastiest desserts I have ever come across.

You can buy kefir grains in some health food stores and supermarkets, as well as online.

There are some good blog posts and videos on how to make kefir, but the process is very simple:

  • Put 1-2 tablespoons of kefir grains into a small jar. The more you use, the faster it will culture.
  • Add around 2 cups of milk, preferably organic or even raw. Milk from grass-fed cows is healthiest. Leave one inch of room at the top of the jar.
  • You can add some full-fat cream if you want the kefir to be thicker.
  • Put the lid on and leave it for 12-36 hours, at room temperature. That’s it.

Once it starts to look clumpy, it is ready. Then you gently strain out the liquid, which leaves behind the original kefir grains.

Now put the grains in a new jar with some milk, and the process starts all over again.

Delicious, nutritious and highly sustainable.

By Joe Leech, Dietitian 


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The Surprising Food that Aids Allergy Sufferers

When I ask “what surprising food aids allergy sufferers?” you may think of green tea or some other food that is well-known for its immune-balancing effects, but you probably don’t think of sauerkraut when the runny nose and itchy eyes of allergy season strike. But a growing body of shows that maybe you should enjoy naturally-fermented sauerkraut on a regular basis, particularly before and during allergy season.

Research in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports found that probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut can reduce allergic conditions and balance immune function. In this study at the Division of Sports Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, researchers found that fermented foods like sauerkraut reduced allergy symptoms while also enhancing athletic performance. That’s a nice bonus: I’m not aware of any allergy medications that also boost athletic ability.

Other research in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that fermented cabbage regulated the immune systems of animals and even reduced or prevented allergic reactions altogether. In this study at the National Teipei University of Education researchers concluded that fermented cabbage offers promise for the treatment of allergic diseases.

The researchers still aren’t clear on the mechanism involved in preventing or reducing allergic reactions but it is likely a couple of things at work:

1) Many probiotics have a natural gut-healing and anti-inflammatory effect, and we now know that many diseases begin with gut inflammation and damage to the delicate mucosal lining in the gut.

2) As probiotics are being discovered and categorized, we are learning that many offer specific health benefits. So it is possible that there are specific probiotics that simply help to reduce allergy symptoms or allergies altogether. The research is still in the early stages, so perhaps over time and as more studies are carried out we’ll better understand how the probiotics in sauerkraut can help us deal with allergy season.

But not just any sauerkraut will do. Most commercial varieties are actually made with white vinegar instead of the natural fermentation process needed to encourage probiotic development. And, it’s the probiotics that offer the therapeutic allergy-reducing benefits.

Additionally, most store-bought sauerkraut has been pasteurized, a process of using excessive heat to bottle sauerkraut to increase shelf-life, but one that also kills all of the probiotics linked to allergy-reduction. The best way to ensure that the sauerkraut you eat is full of beneficial microbes is to make it yourself, which is much easier than most people think. Check out my blog Make Your Own Probiotic-Rich Sauerkraut to learn how. Alternatively, purchase sauerkraut in the refrigerator section of your health food or grocery store, making sure that the label indicates “unpasteurized” or “live cultures.”

While little research has been done on other fermented foods to see if they offer anti-allergy effects, preliminary studies also indicate that kefir (a beverage that is similar to yogurt, only a thinner consistency), miso and yogurt also offer immune-regulating, anti-histamine and respiratory-boosting effects. Ideally, eat at least one fermented food, but preferably more, each day. Be sure to choose only unsweetened options that contain live cultures.

By: Michelle Schoffro Cook                 March 4, 2017
About Michelle          Follow Michelle at @mschoffrocook

Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out.

source: www.care2.com


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Are Prebiotics the Stress Reliever You Never Heard Of?

Before you spend another night tossing and turning from stress, a new study shows that the secret to peaceful Z’s starts with what you’re eating.

There are traditional methods for coping with stress, from relaxing in the tub to keeping a bullet journal, but according to the newest study, an effective way to bounce back from stress is to get your fill of foods rich in prebiotics.

While probiotics—those friendly gut bugs—are often lauded for their digestive benefits, prebiotics are less understood. WebMD defines prebiotics as “good carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the human body. They are food for probiotics, and their primary benefit along with probiotics is to help your body maintain a healthy digestive system.”

Researchers from the University of Colorado discovered that regular amounts of prebiotics in your diet can help promote a better balance of gut bacteria and help the body recover following a stressful event. Their study, which appeared in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, found that including prebiotics—from sources like asparagus, oatmeal, and legumes such as lentils and chickpeas—help our bodies resume normal sleeping patterns following a particularly stressful event.

“Acute stress can disrupt the gut microbiome,” Agnieszka Mika, MD, a lead author of the study told sciencedaily.com. “We wanted to test if a diet rich in prebiotics would increase beneficial bacteria as well as protect gut microbes from stress-induced disruptions. We also wanted to look at the effects of prebiotics on the recovery of normal sleep patterns, since they tend to be disrupted after stressful events.”

For the study, test rats were given a diet of prebiotics for several weeks prior to a stressful test condition. They were then compared against control rats that didn’t eat a prebiotic-rich diet. Researchers found that the rats that ate prebiotic foods prior to the stressful event didn’t demonstrate any stress-induced disruption in their gut and were able to resume healthier sleep patterns more quickly than the rats on the non-prebiotic diet.

Although the study was conducted on rats, the researchers say the results are applicable for humans. According to the study’s lead author, Robert Thompson, MD, “the stressor the rats received was the equivalent of a single intense acute stressful event for humans, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one.”

No adverse effects have been reported from the use of prebiotics, and with the non-digestible fiber found widely in many plants, breast milk and as commercial supplements, Dr. Mika encourages us to get our fill. These are the best foods you can eat to boost your good gut bacteria, because both probiotics and prebiotics are critical to a healthy microbiome, or gut bug community.

BY LAUREN REARICK
source: www.rd.com
Garlic

7 Foods to Boost Your Good Gut Bacteria (That Aren’t Yogurt)

One of the most astonishing recent health discoveries is how much our gut microbiome impacts our health. But when it comes to growing good gut bacteria you have plenty of delicious probiotic foods to choose from.

Cold potatoes

Cold potatoes—that is, taters that have been washed, cooked, and cooled—are one of the best sources of resistant starch. Resistant starch is a prebiotic, a type of indigestible carbohydrate that acts like food for gut bacteria, encouraging the good bugs to grow and flourish. While resistant starch has many health benefits, one of its most promising aspects is its ability to increase insulin sensitivity, helping people reduce diabetes risk and even lose weight.

Kefir

Think of kefir as yogurt’s tangier but more powerful cousin. The drink is made by seeding milk with kefir “grains,” which are tiny bundles of yeast and bacteria, and letting it sit. Over time the grains ferment the milk, producing a tart drink full of probiotics, or healthy bacteria. A 2013 study found that kefir can help relieve gastrointestinal problems and allergies and may even have a positive effect on heart health. One caveat however: Many commercial kefir drinks contain very high amounts of added sugar, which feeds bad bacteria in your gut, so make sure you read the label and ingredient list. These are sneaky signs you might be eating too much sugar.

Green bananas

Most people go out of their way to avoid green bananas but there’s good news for people who just can’t wait until they’re fully ripe. Green bananas are a rich source of prebiotics, particularly resistant starch. They also have a healthy dose of both soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The combo provides a feast for good gut bacteria and helps protect your heart and bones. Can’t get past the taste? Try them boiled or fried or sub some green banana flour in place of regular flour. Here’s how sniffing bananas could help you lose weight.

Kimchi

Don’t let the name throw you—this Korean dish is not only tasty but a health superstar. Kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria, which gives it the same boost of healthy bacteria as other fermented foods, like yogurt. Plus, since it’s made from cruciferous veggies like bok choy and cabbage along with healthy spices like garlic and peppers, it provides a mega dose of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. One study found that kimchi helps protect against cancer, obesity, and constipation while lowering cholesterol, boosting brain and immune function, and even providing some anti-aging benefits. Here are other proven cancer-fighting foods.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is kimchi’s German cousin, a lacto-fermented brine filled with cabbage, carrots, and spices—not to mention plenty of healthy bacteria for your gut. And not only does it have similar benefits as other fermented veggies but a study done by William & Mary college found that eating a daily serving of sauerkraut helped significantly reduce social anxiety. The researchers believe it’s because more than 80 percent of the calming hormone, serotonin, is manufactured in our guts (not our brains!) and the good bacteria boosted serotonin production.

Chocolate

Yes, it’s true! Chocolate can help encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria. A study published in the International Journal of Food Biology found that combining chocolate with probiotics magnified the benefits of both. The chocolate protected the bacteria as it passed through the stomach, making sure it was absorbed in the small intestine while the bacteria helped the body properly digest the chocolate, enabling it to extract all the micronutrients and antioxidants. Talk about a win/win! Here are more healthy reasons to eat chocolate.

Garlic

Everyone’s favorite way to get bad breath also has powerful gut bacteria-boosting properties. Garlic is not only Americans’ number-one favorite spice (after salt) but is also beloved by bacteria thanks to its rich supply of prebiotics, their preferred food. Raw garlic is the best source but for those who don’t like the burn (or who feel like kissing someone later); cooked garlic also works well—so well in fact that a study published in Food Science and Human Wellness found that eating it is an effective way to prevent many gastrointestinal illnesses. Here are more surprising benefits of garlic. Feeling motivated? Try these seven other foods that also boost gut health.

BY CHARLOTTE HILTON ANDERSEN
source: www.rd.com


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How Probiotics Can Be Good for Your Brain

Did you know that there are roughly 40 trillion bacteria living in and on you?

Most of these bacteria reside in your gut and don’t cause any health problems.

In fact, scientists have begun to realize that these bacteria are essential for your physical health.

Now compelling new research has found these bacteria may also be beneficial for your brain and mental health.

This article explains how your brain is affected by gut bacteria and the role probiotics may play.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria. When consumed in sufficient quantities, they provide a specific health benefit.

The word “probiotic” is derived from the Latin words “pro,” meaning to promote, and “biotic,” meaning life.

Importantly, in order for a certain species of bacteria to be termed “probiotic,” it must have a lot of scientific evidence behind it showing a specific health benefit.

Unfortunately, the word probiotic has become overused by food and pharmaceutical companies who were calling some bacteria probiotics even if they had no scientifically proven health benefit.

This led the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ban the word “probiotic” on all foods in the European Union.

However, there is a lot of new scientific evidence showing that some bacterial species have true benefits for health.

They may benefit those with conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), eczema, dermatitis, unhealthy cholesterol levels and liver disease.

Most probiotics belong to one of two types of bacteria: Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria. There are many different species and strains within these groups, and they may have different effects on the body.

Bottom Line: Probiotics are live microorganisms that have a proven health benefit for the body.

How Are Your Intestines and Brain Connected?

The intestines and brain are connected physically and biochemically.

The physical connection between the intestines and brain is through the central nervous system, which controls all of the activities of the body.

The vagus nerve is a large nerve that sends signals between the intestines and brain.

The brain is also connected to the intestines through your gut microbes. Molecules that they produce can act as signals that the brain can detect.

In the past, scientists have estimated that a person has approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells in their body and only 10 trillion human cells, meaning your own cells are outnumbered by 10 to 1.

However, recent estimates suggest that you have roughly 30 trillion human cells and 40 trillion bacteria. This is still pretty impressive and means that, by number of cells, you are more bacteria than human.

The majority of these bacteria are in your gut, so they’re in direct contact with the cells that line your intestines and with everything that enters your body. That includes food, medicines and microbes.

Alongside your gut bacteria, there are many other microbes, such as yeasts and fungi. Collectively, these microbes are known as the gut microbiota or gut microbiome.

Each of these bacteria can produce different compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters and amino acids. Many of these substances have effects on the brain.

In addition to producing brain-altering substances, gut bacteria can also influence the brain and central nervous system by controlling inflammation and hormone production.

Bottom Line: There are thousands of different species of bacteria in the human body, mostly in the intestines. In general, these bacteria are good for your health and may even influence brain health.

An Altered Microbiota May Contribute to a Number of Diseases

The term “gut dysbiosis” refers to when the intestines and gut bacteria are in a diseased state. This may be due to the presence of disease-causing bacteria, which may also lead to chronic inflammation.

An altered microbiota has been observed in people with obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other diseases.

Some studies have shown that certain probiotics can restore the microbiota to a healthy state and reduce symptoms of these diseases.

Interestingly, some studies have shown that people with certain mental disorders also have an altered microbiota. However, it is unclear if this is a cause of such diseases or the result of an altered diet and lifestyle.

Since the gut and brain are connected, and gut bacteria produce substances that can influence the brain, probiotics may be able to benefit the brain and mental health.

A number of recent studies have investigated this, but most have been in animals. However, a few have shown interesting results in humans.

Bottom Line: A number of diseases, including mental disorders, are associated with higher disease-causing bacteria in the intestines. Some probiotics may be able to restore healthy bacteria to reduce symptoms.

Taking Probiotic Supplements May Reduce Symptoms of Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Stress and anxiety are increasingly common and depression is one of the leading causes of disease worldwide.

A number of these disorders, especially stress and anxiety, are associated with high blood levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone.

Only one study has examined how probiotics affect patients with clinically diagnosed depression.

In the study, consuming a mixture of three Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains for eight weeks significantly reduced depressive symptoms. The probiotic also reduced inflammation in the patients.

A handful of other studies have examined how probiotics affect depressive symptoms in healthy subjects. In healthy people, certain probiotics may reduce:

  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Psychological distress
  • Academic stress

Bottom Line: Certain probiotics may reduce anxiety, stress and depressive symptoms in healthy people. More research is needed about potential benefits for people with clinically diagnosed psychological disorders.

 

probiotic foods

 

Taking Probiotic Supplements May Reduce Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is directly related to the function of the colon, but the disease is sometimes considered a psychological disorder.

Anxiety and depression are common in IBS sufferers. Interestingly, people who have IBS also tend to have an altered microbiota.

Many studies have shown that certain probiotics can reduce symptoms of IBS, including pain and bloating.

Bottom Line: IBS is commonly associated with elevated levels of anxiety and depression. Probiotics appear to help reduce IBS symptoms.

Certain Probiotics May Enhance Mood

In healthy people without a psychological disorder, some probiotics may help improve mood.

One study treated participants daily for four weeks with a probiotic mix containing eight different Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains.

The researchers found that taking the supplements reduced participants’ negative thoughts associated with a sad mood.

Another study showed that consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic called Lactobacillus casei for three weeks improved mood in people who had the lowest mood before the treatment.

Interestingly, this study also found that people scored slightly lower on a memory test after taking the probiotic. Further research is needed to validate these results.

Bottom Line: A few studies have shown that taking certain probiotics for a few weeks may slightly improve mood.

Certain Probiotics May Have Benefits After Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury usually involves admission to an intensive care unit. During this time, food is usually administered enterally, meaning through a tube.

In some cases, breathing also has to be assisted with a tube, which can increase the risk of infection. Infections in people with traumatic brain injuries can lead to further complications.

A few studies have found that adding certain probiotics into enteral nutrition can reduce the number of infections in the patients with traumatic brain injury and the length of time they spend in the intensive care unit.

The effects of the probiotics on these outcomes may be due to their benefits for the immune system.

Bottom Line: Administering probiotics after traumatic brain injury may reduce patients’ rate of infections and length of stay in intensive care.

Other Beneficial Effects of Probiotics on the Brain

A handful of other studies have shown that probiotics may have interesting benefits for the brain.

One intriguing study looked at images of women’s brains after they consumed a mix of Bifidobacteria, Streptococcus, Lactobacillus and Lactococcus strains.

Consuming the probiotic affected regions of the brain that control emotion and sensation.

Other studies have shown that providing specific probiotics may reduce certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia, but much more research is needed.

Bottom Line: Some probiotics may influence the function of the brain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. However, this research is still very new, so the results aren’t clear.

Should You Be Taking a Probiotic for Your Brain?

At the moment, there is not enough evidence to definitively say that probiotics benefit the brain. Therefore, they cannot yet be considered a treatment for any brain-related disorders.

If you’re looking to treat such disorders, consult a doctor.

That said, there is good evidence that probiotics can benefit other aspects of health, including heart health, digestive disorders, eczema and dermatitis.

Thus far, scientific evidence does show a clear connection between the gut and the brain. It’s an exciting area of research that is expanding rapidly.

A healthy gut microbiota can usually be obtained by a healthy diet and lifestyle. A number of foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi usually contain beneficial bacteria.

If necessary, taking probiotic supplements can help you increase the beneficial bacterial species in your intestines. In general, consuming probiotics is safe and causes few side effects.

If you’re buying a probiotic, choose one that has scientific evidence behind it. Lactobacillus GG (LGG) and VSL#3 have both been widely studied and shown a number of health benefits.

Bottom Line: Probiotics have been shown to benefit other aspects of health, but not enough research has been done to definitively demonstrate whether probiotics have positive effects on the brain.

Take Home Message

Although the research is promising, it is too soon to recommend any probiotic specifically to boost brain health.

Still, current evidence gives some food for thought about how probiotics may be used to enhance brain health in the future.

By Dr. Ruairi Robertson