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Could Probiotics Ease Depression and Anxiety? New Study


Probiotics, the “good” bacteria, are often touted for their ability to ease gastrointestinal disorders, but what about mental health? A new study reveals that probiotics may help ease depression and anxiety, demonstrating the ability of the bacteria to affect the central nervous system via the “highway” between the brain and the gut.

Probiotics could be good for your mood

You see the commercials on TV, urging you to eat yogurt with good bacteria or to take a probiotic supplement to help your digestion and intestinal health. Numerous studies indicate probiotics can be beneficial for people who suffer with celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, and diarrhea.

But it now appears probiotic bacteria make use of the gut-brain pathway and have an impact on brain neurochemistry. Dr. Javier Bravo and Professor John Cryan at University College Cork, Ireland, with collaborators from the Brain-Body Institute at McMaster University in Canada made this discovery using a mouse model.

When the researchers fed mice Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1, the animals showed significantly fewer behaviors associated with stress, depression, and anxiety than mice fed a placebo broth. Evidence to support this change in behavior manifested in several ways.

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One, mice that consumed the bacteria has significantly lower levels of corticosterone, a stress-induced hormone. Two, the brains of the probiotic mice showed changes in expression of receptors for GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a brain neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety and also helps induce relaxation and sleep.

The researchers also determined that the vagus nerve (nerve that runs from the brain stem to the abdominal area) is the main pathway between the bacteria in the gut (microbiome) and the brain.

According to Cryan, “These findings highlight the important role that gut bacteria play in the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, the gut-brain axis, and opens up the intriguing opportunity of developing unique microbial-based strategies for treatment for stress-related psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

Although it’s still too early to label probiotics as a way to manage depression and anxiety, this study provides evidence that supports further investigation into how your yogurt or probiotic supplement could help your mood as well as your gut.

University College Cork, Ireland

Picture credit: WIkimedia Commons