Most of us have heard of the health benefits of taking a Probiotic for gut health but did you know that there are neurological benefits to taking a daily probiotic?
While many think of their brain as the organ in charge of their mental health, your gut may actually play a far more significant role. Research indicates that problems in the gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression. The Gut-brain connection is recognized as a basic belief of physiology and medicine, so it’s not a surprise even though it’s often overlooked. There is a multitude of evidence showing intestinal involvement in a variety of neurological diseases. New research has found that our esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon have a big say in our minds and bodies function and how happy we are.
A recent study[i] by researchers from UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine has determined that consuming milk fermented with probiotics changes the brain activity of women. After all testing was completed the researchers connected the guts probiotics to the brain via a conduit between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is located in the abdominal region around the digestive tract. Many of our neurotransmitters are produced in this region and the neurons relay mind-body responses between the gut and the brain stem. The researchers concluded: “Four weeks intake of fermented milk with probiotics by healthy women affected activity of brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation.”
The research was led by Dr. Emeran Mayer, A UCLA professor of medicine and a specialist in gastroenterology. He is well known for his research in identifying the gut and its probiotic content as “the second brain”. That being said we it should also be clear that nourishing your gut flora is extremely important, because in a very real sense you have two brains. One inside your skull and one in your gut and each need its own vital nourishment.
Yes, your diet affects your mental health and mood
You have neurons both in your brain and your gut – including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines not your brain. Cells in the gut lining produce 95 percent of the serotonin in our bodies. This is one reason why antidepressants which raise serotonin levels in the brain are often ineffective in treating depression and proper nutrition and dietary changes help.
Previous studies have shown that the composition of gut flora not only affects your physical health but also has an important impact on your brain function and mental state. Previous studies have shown that certain probiotics can help alleviate anxiety:
- The Journal of Neurogastroenterology and motility[ii] reported the probiotic known as bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain.
- Other research found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels – an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes – in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety – and depression related behavior. It is likely other lactobacillus species also provide this benefit, but this was the only one that was tested.
Diet and lifestyle can cause havoc on gut flora
Foods to avoid:
- Processed and refined foods – these in general destroy healthy micro flora and feed bad bacteria and yeast
- Sugar (particularly fructose) based on evidence, is a critical aspect of preventing and or treating depression. Not only does it compromise your gut flora by providing the preferred fuel for pathogenic bacteria, it also contributes to chronic inflammation throughout body, including your brain.
- Artificial sweeteners – two reported side effects of aspartame are panic attacks and depression
- Refined grains – which turn into sugar in the body. Wheat in particular also been linked in psychiatric problems from depression to schizophrenia, due to Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA), which as neurotoxic activity.
- Your gut flora is also very sensitive and can be harmed by: Antibiotics, Chlorinated and or fluoridated water, antibacterial soap, conventionally-raised meats and other animal products.
How to replenish your Gut Flora
Considering 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, replenishing the gut with healthy bacteria is important for the preventative of all disease, both physical and mental. The first step is to clean up your diet and lifestyle to avoid further damage. Then actively replenish with beneficial bacteria.
- Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurized goods like kefir, Natto (fermented soy), or fermented vegetables.
- Take a high quality probiotic supplement which is incredibly useful to help maintain a well functioning digestive system.
Although more research is needed, there is encouraging evidence that probiotics may help:
- Treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics
- Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
- Treat irritable bowel syndrome
- Reduce bladder cancer recurrence
- Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections
- Prevent and treat eczema in children
- Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu
- Directly effect mood, anxiety, and depression
When you consider that your gut is your “second brain,” it becomes easy to see how your gut health can impact your brain function, psyche, and behavior, as they are interconnected and interdependent in a number of different ways. Fortunately, optimizing your gut health is remarkably easy. Foods have an immense impact on your body and your brain. Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you consume a lot of processed foods and sweetened drinks, for instance, your gut bacteria are likely going to be severely compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy micro flora and sugars of all kinds feed bad bacteria and yeast. With 80% of our immune system located in the gut it is imperative that we take constant care of our gut health. You are what you eat so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advise, diagnosis or treatment. Please see your naturopathic practitioner
[i] Tillisch k. Labus J, Kilpatrick L, Jiang Z, Stains J, Ebrat B, Guyonnet D. Legrain-Raspaud S, Trotin B, Naliboff B,Mayer EA. Consumption of Fermented Milk Product with Probiotic Molulates
[ii] Neurogastroenterology and motility 2011 Dec 23(12):1132.9