Mental Health: Probiotic Therapy for the Future or for Now?


Many people struggle with mental health challenges at some point in their lives.

“What weighs 3 lbs and influences everything we do?”

Nope. Not your brain. Your gut microbes.

Thanks to Dr. John Cryan for this gem of a joke.  He studies the microbiome and neurobiology at the University College Cork in Ireland and is one of a group of researchers that coined the term “Psychobiotics” in 2013 [1].  Psychobiotics, these researchers say are live organisms that when ingested in adequate amounts, convey a mental health benefit, or benefits to patients suffering psychiatric illness [1].

WOW.  Live organisms, probiotics, that convey a mental health benefit. Truly MIND blowing.

Gut Basics: Your Downstairs Brain

So it IS true that 2-3 lbs of your bodyweight is your microbial community in and on your body.  This group of microbes, many of which are residents of your gut, have been found in recent years to have a 2-way relationship with your brain, what scientists call the “gut-brain axis.”

In fact, the gut contains 200 million neurons, roughly the equivalent of a cat or dog brain and it makes a lot of serotonin, the hormone and neurotransmitter that makes us happy [2]. This connection between the gut and brain has led to a field of nutritional psychiatry, whereby scientists are attempting to influence the brain by altering the diet, thereby altering the gut microbiota and ideally, improving symptoms [3].  Subsequently, probiotics are front and center in the search for effective treatments for disorders like anxiety and depression.

Anxiety, Depression and your Gut Microbes

Depression is a brain metabolic disorder and nearly 20% of the population will suffer from it at some point in their lifetime [4].  Depression has an increased risk of death by suicide and patients have shorter life expectancies, so it is a crucial condition requiring effective treatment.  A meta-analysis in Nutrients in 2016 found that across the current research, probiotics show a significant probability of positively influencing or preventing depression, but more studies with higher numbers of subjects are necessary to clarify and strengthen the results [4].

Probiotics have been found in rodent and human models to decrease stress behaviors [3]. Probiotic consumption by rats also prevented stress induced hormone increases like adrenaline and corticosterone [3].  Additionally probiotic consumption in humans increased the precursor to serotonin (our happy neurotransmitter), with an effect similar to that of an antidepressant drug [3].

Mental Health and Gut Health

The research is pointing in a direction that is positive for probiotics and mental health. But many questions remain to be answered. “How many probiotics?” “Which strains?” and “What duration of treatment?” are all important questions that have yet to be clarified.  

Much of the research includes daily doses of multi-strain probiotics.  A minimum effective dose or specific strain(s) are not yet identified.  However, many of the studies utilize various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, both genus’ are found in H2PROTM.  The studies often use between 1 – 10 billion CFU’s or colony forming units. H2PROTM contains 7 billion CFU’s.

And, once you have the good little buggers in your system as a daily probiotic, the evidence is leaning towards the importance of nutrition in maintaining and caring for the multitudes of microbes in your gut.  Fiber is really important and a variety of unprocessed fruits and vegetables is essential to keeping your microbes happy.

So, #LoveYourGuts daily, eat a healthy diet and feel better.  What do you have to lose?

 

Citations

1- Dinan, Timothy, Catherine Stanton, John F. Cryan (2013) Psychobiotics: A Novel Class of Psychotropic. Biological Psychiatry. 74 (10): 720–726.

2- Fenster, Michael. (2017) Gut Check: Why a happy belly is key to health. Psychology Today. Online, March 20, 2017. 

3- Wallace, Catherine and Roumen Milev (2017) The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. Annals of General Psychiatry 16:14. DOI: 10.1186/s12991-017-0138-2 

4- Huang, Ruixue et al. (2016) Effect of Probiotics on Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 8 (8): 483. 

 

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