One of the most interesting theories coming from recent medical research in is that there is a connection between the bacteria living in our intestines, and our brain. This has been called the “brain-gut” pathway, and to illustrate what researchers are discovering, today we look at a study just published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
The researchers, from Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands), took 40 healthy young adults and divided them randomly into two groups. One group of 20 received a supplement of probitoics (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium—bacterial strains commonly added to some yogurts), and the other 20 received what looked and tasted like the probiotic supplement, but was a placebo (did not contain any of the probiotic bacteria).
To avoid bias in the study, neither the people taking the supplements nor the researchers knew (until the code was broken at the end of the study), if a volunteer was taking the real probiotic or the placebo. [In medical research, this is called a “double-blind” study, and is considered the best way to conduct research.]
After four weeks of taking either the probiotic or the placebo, all the participants were given psychological testing which measured how susceptible they were to a sad mood, using the “revised Leiden index of depression sensitivity scale”. The results showed that the people who had been taking the probiotics were significantly less likely to become depressed and have negative thoughts after being exposed to sad situations.
Basically this study suggests that the greater the number and variety of bacteria in a person’s gut, the healthier and more resilient is their mental state. While this might sound hard to believe, the Dutch researchers point out that their study is not the first with this conclusion. Indeed, a number of previous studies over the past 10 years have reached similar conclusions. It seems likely that this gut-brain connection is real and a powerful influence on our psychological state.
How can our intestinal bacteria influence our mood? Other studies suggest these bacteria produce chemicals or hormonal signals that change our immune and stress response. Previous experiments with mice produced less corticosteroid, hormones strongly tied to the stress response, when fed a diet that included probiotics.
This field of research is still very new, and many more studies are being carried out. In the meantime, might it be a good idea to start taking yogurt with active cultures every day?
We suggest you conduct your own experiment. Try taking probiotic supplements or active culture yogurt for a month or more and see what happens. It’s unlikely you will have any negative effects, and if you have good results, you can continue on the probiotic intake indefinitely. It might be cheaper and better than other treatments.
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