April 29, 2019 4 min read
Beyond maintaining the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract and oral cavity, probiotics may also play a role in promoting better mental health.
Consider this, according to an article published in Harvard Health Publishing, your body is a network and research has shown that your gut and brain share a “partnership.”
Your brain and your gut are linked via biochemical signaling. There is a direct hook-up between the nervous system of your digestive tract and the central nervous system, which includes your brain.
The gut has also been called the “second brain” because it produces important mood regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, just like the brain. In fact, about 90% of the serotonin your body needs is produced by your gut–and specifically by certain bacteria in your gut.
Dementia covers a range of diseases that adversely affect memory, thinking, as well as behavior and personality. In many cases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, the brain deterioration eventually compromises a person’s ability to perform even basic, everyday tasks and activities.
Interestingly enough, the bacteria in a healthy microbiome (a human microbiome is the collective microbial entities that live in and on the human body–and there are 10 times MORE of those than human cells!) does more than just help with nutrient absorption. In fact, your gut bacteria play a significant role in producing the neurotransmitters and neuropeptides (think of these two as small particles that communicate and regulate activities between your brain, body and nervous system) that your body needs in maintaining overall mental health.
But due to aging, diet, chemicals and pollutants, the microbiome goes out of balance and this affects your entire body AND your mental health.
For example, according to an article in Springer.com, research into Alzheimer’s disease seems to suggest a direct relationship between your microbiome and the pathogenesis (disease growth) of the disease. So, using probiotics to help regulate the health of the gut microbiome may be a vital way of supplementing conventional treatment strategies.
Neurons are a special type of cell, usually found in your brain, that help regulate your nervous system. Your brain has about 100-billion of them. But did you know that your gut also contains about 500-million neurons? And did you know that there is a direct information highway, called the vagus nerve, that links your brain to your gut?
Along with all the communication going back-and-forth, a happy balanced gut produces neurotransmitters and other neurochemicals that help keep your brain healthy. In addition, the microbiome also produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFA)–with fun names such as butyrate, propionate and acetate–which also help keep your brain functioning normally.
Your gut and brain are so closely linked that if one of them is unhealthy, they can affect each other and this shows up as physiological and emotional symptoms. Some examples of physical symptoms include headaches, sleeping problems, restlessness, as well as weight loss or gain. Some emotional symptoms could be depression, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating on a particular task, anger management issues and others.
So, if your gut and brain are closely connected, then it follows that maintaining the health of your microbiome in your gut with probiotics will benefit your brain’s health as well.
This may sound like “breaking news”, but as far back as 2013, an article published in Medical News Today discussed how the consumption of probiotics was beneficial to brain function and mental health as a whole. The article discussed how the benefits of probiotics consumption extended beyond improved immune response and healthier bones.
Because your microbiome potentially affects brain neurochemistry, probiotics could potentially be employed in helping with the treatment of anxiety and depression-related disorders. This is because probiotics help in establishing healthy levels of “good” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. And, by doing so, probiotics help ensure your gut keeps producing adequate levels of neurochemicals to enhance your mood, and so potentially counter depression and anxiety.
However, a word of caution is in order. The potential use of probiotics to treat disorders such as anxiety and depression is extremely hopeful. And while it appears that probiotics and a healthy microbiome are closely linked to brain function and mental health, this area of research is still quite young and needs quite a bit of further study. And so, for now at least, probiotic consumption should be used to help support treatment, rather than a primary means of medical intervention.
Because your gut is also responsible for producing a lot of the neurotransmitters and neurochemicals that help regulate your mood and safeguard overall brain function, maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome helps ensure your brain’s overall health as well. Research to date supports that taking probiotics certainly helps to ensure a balanced gastrointestinal microbiome.
However, just remember that 1) probiotics help support medical treatment, they aren’t meant to replace any medication you happen to be taking, 2) probiotics alone won’t do the job in the face of an unhealthy diet and 3) certain drugs, chemicals and pollutants can have a powerfully negative effect on your body’s microbiome.