For many scientist and physicians the observation that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can influence brain function has been difficult to prove. There are many physicians who have documented experiences where healing the GI tract has had a positive benefit on disorders affecting the brain (like depression, ADHD and anxiety just to name a few) but still mainstream medicine has completely isolated these two organs apart from each other. Well, maybe not anymore!
A new study from UCLA provides the first real hard documented evidence that ingestion of probiotics (good bacteria) can modulate brain activity.
“This is a very important study as up to now most of the evidence that the gut microbiota can influence brain and behavior have emerged from studies in mouse models,” says John Cryan, PhD and Department Head of Anatomy and Neuroscience at University College in Ireland. He further states that this study “gives credence to the idea that we may modulate brain function in disease states by using probiotics.”
The study involved thirty-six healthy women with no GI or psychiatric symptoms. Twice a day for four weeks twelve women ingested probiotics while eleven ingested a non-fermented milk product. All of the women underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) before the study began and after the end of the four weeks that measured resting brain activity and responses to emotion-recognition tasks.
The women who ingested the probiotics had a significant less stress response to emotional stimuli as compared to the group that did not take probiotics. At the same time the probiotic group also showed greater connectivity between the periaqueductal grey matter and the midbrain, areas responsible for cognition and focus.
“The knowledge that signals are sent from the intestine to the brain and that they can be modulated by a dietary change is likely to lead to an expansion of research aimed at finding new strategies to prevent or treat digestive, mental and neurological disorders,” says Emeran Mayer, MD professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at UCLA.
Besides improvement in brain function others studies have shown up to a 30% reduction in the incidence of asthma and allergies in children who have been supplemented with probiotics and recent studies point to probiotics as the cure for colic. I really could go on and on with the benefits of a good probiotic.
So should you start a probiotic? Absolutely!
I take one on a regular basis and recommend to the majority of my patients some form of good beneficial bacteria. I recommend products that contain at least five different strains of bacteria and contain a minimum of five billion colony forming units (CFUs – this measures live active cultures). Yogurt is roughly one billion CFUs. Refrigeration is also necessary. Probiotics that don’t require refrigeration either significantly lose the CFU count while they sit on the store shelf or provide dead bacteria in general, so make sure it’s refrigerated.
For children, studies have shown that under the age of two probiotics with a focus on Bifidobacter have more of a benefit than Lactobacillus. However after the age of two the microbiota changes to Lactobacillus species. Make sure to use a probiotic appropriate for you or your child.