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Psychobiotics? The Gut-Brain Connection
Your body is home to trillions of bacteria. Contrary to popular opinion, not all bacteria cause infections. In fact, most of the bacteria in your body do work for your body, not against it! Scientists have been conducting experiments that suggest that some of these bacteria are essential for both your physical and mental health. The research on probiotics shows that your brain and gut bacteria have an indelible connection, and often referred to as the gut-brain connection. Probiotics play an important role in regulating your microbiome and offer numerous health benefits; including keeping your digestive and immune systems running at full capacity and supporting mental clarity.
First coined by Dr. Ted Dinan in 2013, the term psychobiotics refers to probiotics or live microorganisms that are specifically beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing. (1) Your intestines have a nervous system of their own which is known as the ‘second brain’ or ‘backup brain’. Along with your intestines, the bacteria residing in your gut also have a two-way communication network with your brain. A healthy gut should have at least 85% good bacteria and 15% of the other kind. If this balance is not maintained, you are likely to experience side effects such as digestive issues, chronic fatigue, and brain fog. Let’s look at 7 benefits of probiotics in relation to mental clarity.
7 Benefits of Probiotics for Mental Health
1. Probiotics synthesize neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are compounds or chemicals that individual brain cells use to talk to each other. The general assumption is that neurotransmitters are produced and utilized only in the brain. However, the truth is that the enteric nervous system (ENS) which resides in your gut creates and uses more than 30 neurotransmitters. This is the reason why your ENS controls the process of digestion with no help from the brain. Gut microbes produce many major brain chemicals including GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and acetylcholine.
Specific probiotic strains are responsible for producing specific neurotransmitters. For example, Bifidobacterium produces GABA, Enterococcus and Streptococcus produce serotonin, while Bacillus produces dopamine and norepinephrine. (2) In fact, more than 50% of dopamine and 90% of serotonin are found in the gut. Dopamine affects your emotions and sensations of pleasure or pain, while serotonin—or the happy chemical—regulates mood and boosts memory.
2. Probiotics communicate with the brain.
Probiotics can affect mental clarity because they exert influence on the brain via the vagus nerve. (3)(4) The vagus nerve continuously relays information from the brain to the intestine and back. It is the longest cranial nerve, and it touches a number of organs on its way. Research has found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain helps transfer messages to the brain, and results in fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
3. Probiotics reduce stress levels and cortisol.
Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone. Some strains of probiotics reduce the levels of cortisol in your body. Having elevated levels of cortisol over a long period of time is connected to conditions like memory loss, difficulty in concentration, depression, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, and more. Studies show that probiotic strains like Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus helveticus cause cortisol levels to drop. (5)
4. Probiotics reduce brain inflammation.
Chronic brain inflammation leads to a lack of mental clarity and mental illnesses like depression. Probiotics can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain by keeping cytokines in check. Cytokines are chemical transmitters that keep levels of inflammation high. Research suggests that there is a strong link between mental health issues like depression, anxiety, cognitive disorders, memory loss, and mood disorders, and high levels of cytokines. (6) Certain strains of probiotics serve to keep cytokines low, and thereby, reduce brain inflammation.
5. Probiotics prevent the creation of lipopolysaccharides.
Lipopolysaccharides are toxic byproducts created by high levels of bad bacteria. Probiotics help keep the growth of bad bacteria in check, and thereby, prevent the creation of lipopolysaccharides. This byproduct affects the brain detrimentally by reducing levels of dopamine and serotonin, damaging the memory-center or hippocampus, increasing cortisol and free radical damage, and causing short-term loss of memory.
6. Probiotics protect you from brain damage.
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli also double up as antioxidants. (7) These antioxidants play a protective function and keep your brain cells from suffering free radical damage. Not only are these strains two of the most prolific bacterial groups in the gut, but most quality probiotic supplements and probiotic foods have these strains in high concentrations.
7. Probiotics may lead to the formation of new brain cells.
Until recently, the common belief was that the production of new brain cells stopped post-adolescence. Recent research has debunked this myth. The human body is capable of producing new neurons throughout adulthood. When it comes to probiotic studies, it has been found that they may be capable of boosting the levels of BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factors. (1) This brain protein is important as it stimulates the creation of new neurons and exhibits natural antidepressant qualities. While this effect has only been studied on lab animals, full-fledged research is underway.
Support Mental Clarity with Probiotics Today
Psychiatric illnesses and brain issues are complicated, and it is always best to consult a health practitioner to understand what is causing your symptoms. Probiotics are just one piece of a healthy lifestyle that can go a long way to bettering your quality of life.
It is important to choose a quality probiotic supplement with a blend of strains that help restore the microbiome to balance and support healthy brain function. You also need to be sure whatever probiotic you choose supports the survivability of adequate amounts of the colony forming units (CFUs) contained within. All our probiotic tablets are formulated with our patented BIO-tract® delivery technology ensuring 15x as many CFUs make it past your stomach acid barrier and deep into your gastrointestinal tract (where your microbiome lives).
Whether your goal is to reduce anxiety, stress, mood swings, or brain fog or to enhance cognition, probiotics can help support mental clarity and gut health.
- Sarkar, Amar, Soili M. Lehto, Siobhán Harty, Timothy G. Dinan, John F. Cryan, and Phillip W.J. Burnet. “Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals.” Trends in Neurosciences 39, no. 11 (2016): 763–781. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002.
- Galland, Leo. “The Gut Microbiome and the Brain.” Journal of Medicinal Food 17, no. 12 (2014): 1261–1272. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.7000.
- Dinan, T.G., C. Stanton, J.F. Cryan. “Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic.” Biol Psychiatry 74, no. 10 (2013): 720–726. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.001.
- Diaz Heijtz, R., S. Wang, F. Anuar, Y. Qian, B. Björkholm, A. Samuelsson, M.L. Hibberd, et al. “Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108, no. 7 (2011): 3047–3052. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010529108.
- Zhou, L. and J.A. Foster. “Psychobiotics and the gut-brain axis: in the pursuit of happiness.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 11, no. 7 (2015): 715–723. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S61997.
- Khairova, Rushaniya A., Rodrigo Machado-Vieira, Jing Du, and Husseini K. Manji. “A potential role for pro-inflammatory cytokines in regulating synaptic plasticity in major depressive disorder.” The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology 12, no. 4 (2009): 561–578. doi: 10.1017/S1461145709009924.
- Wang, Yang, Yanping Wu, Yuanyuan Wang, Han Xu, Xiaoqiang Mei, Dongyou Yu, Yibing Wang, et al. “Antioxidant Properties of Probiotic Bacteria.” Nutrients 9, no. 5 (2017): 521. doi: 10.3390/nu9050521.
- Collins, S.M., M. Surette, P. Bercik. “The interplay between the intestinal microbiota and the brain.” Nat Rev Microbiol 10, no. 11 2012: 735–742. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2876.
- Tsavkelova, E.A., I.V. Botvinko, V.S. Kudrin, A.V. Oleski. “Detection of neurotransmitter amines in microorganisms using of high-performance liquid chromatography.” Dokl Biochem 372, no. 1-6 (2000): 115–117 (in Russian issue 840–842). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10935181.