Probiotics are live bacteria meant to help improve gut microbiota. The consumption of probiotic foods introduces good bacteria to the body and helps promote healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics are commonly found in fermented foods or supplements like yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi, to name a few.
Several studies have linked gut health to mood and mental health. Animal and human studies have shown that probiotic supplements can improve some mental health disorders. A meta-analysis showed that supplementing Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus strains for 1 to 2 months helped improve anxiety, depression, social behavior in autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and memory.
Probiotics and the Gut-Brain Axis
Probiotics are live microorganisms, primarily bacteria and sometimes yeast, that provide certain health benefit to those who consume them. They help your body's gut bacteria function optimally, which works in tandem with your neurological system and brain to form an intricate "gut-brain axis" system.
Researchers confirmed that probiotics can enhance brain function through the gut-brain axis. The two are linked by biochemical signaling between the nervous system and the digestive tract. Probiotic consumption can thus help balance hormones, strengthen the immune system, and reduce inflammation, all of which can benefit mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
According to several studies, probiotics may assist in improving mood and cognitive performance, as well as reducing stress and anxiety. For instance, a study indicated that Alzheimer's patients who drank milk containing four probiotic bacterial species for 12 weeks performed better on a test to measure cognitive impairment than those who drank ordinary milk.
Ways Probiotics Enhance Mental Health
In recent years, some experts have turned their attention to a special group of probiotics, sometimes called psychobiotics. These bacteria could potentially help to treat a range of mental health conditions, including depression, and boost your overall mood. Here are some ways psychobiotics enhance mental health:
1) Enhances Cognitive Function
The gut-brain axis is a two-way interaction, meaning both the brain and the gut impact each other. The body communicates back and forth throughout this intricate network using immunological pathways, neurological pathways, and metabolic pathways.
The brain and the gut are inextricably linked. The gut quite often affects the brain, and the reverse is also true. When your brain detects danger, it sends signals to your digestive tract, which is why negative events can cause digestive problems like anxiety or abdominal discomfort. However, due to gut-brain axis, unhealthy gut flora can also negatively affect brain activity, cognition, and behavior. Probiotics aid in maintaining a healthy balance in the gut flora, which promotes normal cognitive function and benefits mental health.
2) Alleviates symptoms of depression
Existing research on probiotics for depression and other mental health issues is generally positive, but many trials are small. The effectiveness of probiotics in treating depression is therefore difficult to determine.
The probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 may help people with irritable bowel syndrome live better lives and lessen their symptoms of depression, according to the findings of a small study published in 2017.
In another small 2016 study, participants with serious depression took a probiotic pill for eight weeks that contained three different bacteria strains. On the Beck's Depressive Inventory, a widely used tool for assessing depression symptoms, most participants had lower ratings at the conclusion of the study. Additionally, probiotics appear to function most effectively when combined with other therapies, such as medicine and psychotherapy.
3) Regulates Hormones
The endocrine system, which secretes hormones into our bloodstream, is one mechanism by which the gut-brain axis communicates. Hormones play a significant role in practically every area of human function, including growth and development, metabolism, reproduction, sleep, and mood, all of which have an impact on mental health either directly or indirectly.
Our gut contains a variety of nutrients, toxins, and antigens that can cause the release of hormones that have an impact on both our physical and mental health. In addition, some "bad" bacterial species that are present in the gut may be responsible for greater levels of stress hormones. Probiotics can improve mental health and reduce stress by regulating the gut flora.
4) Strengthen Your Immunity
Pathogens that cause infections, such as viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms, affect the immune system and increase inflammation levels, which can exacerbate depression symptoms.
Most of our body's immune cells are found in our stomach. By preventing the growth of "bad bacteria" and decreasing the likelihood of infection from pathogens we consume through food, healthy gut flora strengthens the immune system's ability to fight off disease. Strengthening immune function and reducing gut inflammation can help with mental health.
Since research around the microbiome is fairly new, there are mixed results regarding the effectiveness of probiotics on our physical and mental health. While it is too early to determine the exact role probiotics play in the gut-brain axis, research available in the public domain indicates that probiotics not only support a healthier gut but also a healthier brain.
Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.
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