BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

Probitics for Students

Yep, your gut talks to your brain

You know that fluttering feeling in your stomach before you give a toast? Or the sudden loss of appetite that comes with upsetting news? That’s your brain communicating with your gut’s microbiota, or more scientifically known as the gut-brain axis

And it goes both ways. Your gut’s microbiota can also talk to your brain. In fact, recent studies show that consuming probiotics may help improve your mood and smarts.

“I can foresee more widespread usage of probiotics in the treatment of mental health, especially since most people can tolerate them well,” says AparnaIyer, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Iyer says more research is needed to help determine what strains or doses of probiotics might be the most therapeutic, but in the meantime, you can still give your brain a boost by adding probiotics — the smart way — to your diet.

How do probiotics help the brain?

You might think your stomach has a mind of its own sometimes, and you’re right. The gut houses our second brain, the enteric nervous system (ENS), and it’s our job to give the second brain the impression that everything’s hunky-dory down there so that it gabs the good news to brain number one.

“The healthy functioning of one is conducive to healthy functioning of the other,” Iyer says. That’s a prime reason to get geeky about good bacteria consumption, but it’s not just about eating kefir and sauerkraut.

There are specific probiotic strains with more research than others, specifically the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains (specifically the L. helveticus and B. longum strains). Researchers are even calling these strains “psychobiotics” for their potential therapeutic benefits. But here’s what science really knows about probiotics and the brain-gut connection:

Probiotic strain What science says
B. longum may reduce depression and anxiety, helps people with IBS
B. bifidum helps generate vitamins such as K and B-12, which may also influence mood
B. infantis increased relaxation in rats

and helped with treating irritable bowel syndrome

L. reuteri known to have an anti-pain effect in mice and can help increase excitability
L. plantarum significantly increased serotonin and dopamine in mice and reduced anxious behavior when they were in a maze
L. acidophilus may help reduce cholesterol and supports nutrient absorption
L. helveticus rats administered with L. helveticus showed a decline in anxiety scores but another 2017 study found no difference

 

Try all probiotic foods: Food products often have a mix of probiotics — and not just one type (although you can purchase a specific strain in pill form).

For example, one study, published in the Frontiers of Neuroscience, showed that people with Alzheimer’s disease who took probiotics (a mixture of L. acidophilus, L. casei, B. bifidum,and L. fermentum) experienced positive effects on cognitive functions like learning power and memory.

Research is ongoing with the brain-gut connection and how probiotics can help. But so far, the work is promising — and, of course, you don’t have to have a chronic illness to reap the potential brain-boosting benefits.

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