If you’re already taking probiotic supplements, or have added probiotics to your diet, then you are already familiar with the benefits they have for your health. But did you know that those benefits from probiotics may also include boosting your brain power as well?
Psychobiotics: Probiotics that Benefit Your Brain
About a decade ago, if someone told you that the balance of microorganisms in your gut had an impact on your mental health, you would’ve probably dismissed them as whack jobs peddling unproven “pseudoscience”. However, over the years since then, scientific research has discovered a very real link between the “health” of your microbiome in your gastrointestinal tract and the health of your brain. According to a December 2018 article in the American Psychological Association, research has shown that people with gastrointestinal problems have a higher-than-average incidence of neuropsychiatric problems such as bipolar disorder and depression.
This is likely due to how the probiotics in the yogurt helps maintain the balance of your gut microbiome, which helps facilitate your gut’s ability to produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine that help your brain better cope with these conditions.
In fact, it is estimated that 90% of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in your gut, not in your brain! With low serotonin levels associated with numerous psychological problems, even insomnia, depression and “low esteem,” the importance of good gut health becomes important to both health and happiness.
Further studie points to the possibility of using probiotics in tandem with conventional treatments as a means of managing certain kinds of mental illnesses; such as bipolar disorder and depression. Research continues in order to more fully understand the exact mechanisms at work between your microbiome and brain with the hopeful goal of using probiotics as a form of treatment.
Based on current research, the particular “psychobiotics” that are connected with brain health-enhancing potential are strains from the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium group of probiotics.
So, it stands to reason that adding probiotic foods rich in these particular probiotics would also be beneficial to your brain’s overall health. Here are some of your top contenders:
Greek Yogurt: The difference with Greek yogurt is that it is strained several times to remove much of the liquid found in regular yogurt. Besides from making it thicker and creamier, the straining means that it has a higher protein content as well as less sugar.
Greek yogurt also typically has the bifidobacterium strains B. infantis, B. bifidum, and lactobacillus. And this type of yogurt is also chock-full of calcium, protein, iodine, and vitamin B-12.
According to a 2016 study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, people that consume at least 100 grams of probiotic yogurt daily were less likely to suffer the negative effects of stress, depression, and overall anxiety than people that did not.
Kefir: Another probiotic food that makes this list for its “psychobiotics” property is kefir. Unlike yogurt which has to do with bacterial fermentation in milk, kefir is created through the combination of bacteria and yeast fermentation in grains which are then combined with milk to produce a tart and tangy beverage with the consistency of “drinkable” yogurt. In terms of probiotics, kefir contains a similar “psychobiotic” profile as yogurt in that it has B. infantis, B. bifidum, and lactobacillus.
Kefir also has similar nutrients such as calcium, protein, and vitamin B-12. However, it also contains other nutrients such as phosphorus, riboflavin, magnesium, as well as vitamin D. Kefir can contain up to 61 different strains of probiotic bacteria and yeast, making it a much more “diverse” source of probiotics than others, according to Healthline.com.
Kefir also has other health benefits such as lowering your risk of osteoporosis and cancer. Moreover, because kefir helps maintain the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut, it also helps ease any digestion problems such as diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. Kefir also boosts your immune system as a whole.
Kimchi: This humble “side dish” from Korea has grown in popularity in recent years, and has arguably attained “superfood” status. It is typically made from ingredients such as Napa cabbage, radish, scallion, cucumber and red chili paste. Kimchi also happens to contain the lactobacillus strain, L. plantarum, which beneficially affects your brain, according to a September 2018 article in the Journal of Microbiology.
But wait, there’s more! According to a March 2017 article from Doctors Health Press, kimchi is also an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, vitamin B6, manganese, and iron. It also contains some vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, choline, betaine, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.
So, in addition to the probiotics angle, this amazing dish is also a great source of nutrients that do your body good! In fact, kimchi consumption not only helps with weight loss, but also lowers your risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular disease. Kimchi can also help with constipation issues, and promote overall colon health. Is it any wonder this dish has become such a favorite staple not only in Korea, but the world over?
Kombucha: Kombucha may sound like a relative “newcomer” to the probiotic scene, but this fizzy health drink has been consumed in Asia for thousands of years. This beverage is created through the fermentation of sweetened green, or black tea, through the introduction of bacteria and yeast (which forms a bacterial colony known as a SCOBY).
Kombucha contains lactobacillus plus many other probiotics such as: gluconacetobacter, acetobacter, and zygosaccharomyces. In addition, kombucha also contains nutrients such as folate, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, as well as vitamins B6 and B12.
This delightful fermented tea beverage has anti-inflammatory properties that help with overall health. And kombucha can help alleviate the negative effects of depression, according to a study published in the February 2017 edition of the Annals of General Psychiatry.
Kombucha also has antioxidants and antibacterial properties that help lower your risk of cancer, while also making it harder for harmful bacteria to grow unchecked in your gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, kombucha consumption also helps promote the overall health of your heart and liver.
However, because kombucha is made via fermentation it does contain some alcohol, and possibly some sugar as well, depending on how a particular batch was made–although these levels are pretty low and you would have to drink A LOT of kombucha to even get tipsy.
Thinking of making your own kombucha at home? While the possibility of kombucha being contaminated with “harmful” bacteria is much higher with homemade brews, the risks are not high if you follow the “tried and true” guidelines of making your own kombucha. (Here is a link to avoid the risks involved in homemade kombucha)
Sauerkraut: Our last (but certainly not the least) “psychobiotic” food is one of the best–sauerkraut. This delightful fermented cabbage dish is a great source of fiber and contains lots of other nutrients such as protein, iron, manganese, folate, potassium, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6.
Sauerkraut has L. plantarum and B. bifidum, which are can aid in proper digestion, as well as boost your immune system, and promote the health of your gut’s microbiome. In addition, sauerkraut also has Lactobacillus acidophilus which improve nerve-cell receptors as well as the function of cannabinoid receptors in your spinal cord, the receptors crucial in pain regulation. Moreover, sauerkraut consumption can not only help maintain your brain’s overall health, but also aid in your body’s absorption of mood-regulating minerals such as zinc and magnesium. What’s more, sauerkraut consumption appears to help improve memory and reduce anxiety.
A Word of Caution
Although the science is promising, and research in recent years has opened the door to potential uses for probiotics in the treatment of certain mental disorders, probiotics aren’t to be considered substitutes for proper treatment of mental illnesses.
But our minds and bodies are not disconnected and with more and more substantial support for the “gut-brain axis” it certainly could not hurt to beef up the health of your gut.
Think of employing probiotics as a supplement and support to other conventional treatments rather than a replacement.
Probiotics have numerous health benefits and multiple studies are linking a healthy gut to a sharper mind and a happier you.
It certainly looks like eating the right foods could help keep your brain in tip-top shape. And who says you need to rely upon supplements when so many natural, and tasty, foods can help to boost your brain power in fun, and delectable ways that are sure to delight your palate!