You’ve probably heard of all the amazing benefits probiotics—the good microorganisms in our body—impart on our health. From digestive support and immune system regulation to improved nutrient absorption and blood sugar balancing, probiotics provide a myriad of functions vital to our well-being.
Considering all that they do, the word “probiotics,” which stems from the Latin pro (meaning “for”) and the Greek biotikos (meaning “life”), is a very fitting term for microbes that have such an astounding impact on our health. But, a new phrase is exploding on the scientific and psychiatric scenes—psychobiotics.
Although the word may sound like the title of the latest science fiction blockbuster, psychobiotics are actually live microbes in the human body that have a beneficial, psychoactive (affecting the mind) effect on our mental state.
You see, our human microbiome is a vast ecosystem teeming with trillions of bacteria that work together—both with each other and with our organs and cells—to keep us healthy and vibrant. With about 85% good guy bacteria and 15% bad guys, a balanced microbiome is crucial for excellent physical health. As it turns out, it’s just as important for our mental health and well-being.
Exciting new research shows that bacteria in our gut can have mind-altering effects on how we think, feel, react, and remember.
Do Psychobiotics Really Work?
A number of animal studies have demonstrated the stress-relieving effects of various strains of probiotics on mice1, but human studies are coming to the same conclusions: beneficial bacteria can influence our mood and brain function.
• Decreased emotional reactivity: When shown pictures of negative or scary faces, women who consumed a probiotic-rich yogurt twice daily for four weeks had brain scans that showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for emotions and sensation2.
• Improved cognitive health: In the same study, resting brain scans of the women in the probiotic group showed greater connectivity between the brainstem and an area of the brain associated with cognition, the prefrontal cortex2.
• Lowered temporary stress and anxiety levels: Medical students getting ready for a big examination drank fermented milk for eight weeks. Compared to the placebo group, the probiotic group had lower cortisol levels (a marker of stress), increased serotonin levels, and fewer GI symptoms typically associated with temporary stress and anxiety3.
• Improved mood: Forty patients experiencing low mood and sadness received either probiotic supplements or placebo. By the end of eight weeks, the probiotic group had improved scores on the mental health inventory test, as well as significantly higher levels of glutathione, an amino acid antioxidant thought to help prevent temporary depression4.
It’s easy to envision how the microbes in our body, most of which reside in our gut, can impact our digestion and immune system; after all, their proximity to our digestive and immune processes makes them perfect helpers. What’s harder to grasp is how these microscopic bugs can have an effect on our feelings and state of mind.
Psychobiotics and the Brain
Scientists are discovering that microbes in the gut can send messages to the brain via the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem all the way to the abdomen. Think of it as a two-way highway: just as our brain can send messages to our gut (like when a scary thought gives you butterflies in your stomach), the good guys in our gut can also communicate with our brain, affecting how we feel at any given time.
The good news is that certain strains of probiotics—psychobiotics—seem to ameliorate temporary feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, most likely by communicating with the brain and producing important neurotransmitters like GABA (the “calming” chemical) 5 and serotonin (the “happy” chemical) 3. Psychobiotics can also reduce levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) 3, and increase levels of oxytocin (the “cuddle” hormone) 6.
Take Care of Your Gut for Mental & Emotional Health
We all experience short-lived bouts of stress, sadness, anxiety, and low mood, but research now shows that we may be able to improve our mood and brain function simply by taking care of our gut microbiome.
Eat plenty of prebiotics: Studies indicate that prebiotics, indigestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in our gut, can also regulate our mood by helping our beneficial microbes flourish. In one trial, volunteers who took prebiotics for three weeks showed decreased cortisol levels and decreased temporary anxiety7.
Good sources of prebiotics include bananas, apples, dandelion greens, onions, Jerusalem artichoke, and fermented foods like sauerkraut.
Take your probiotics: Unfortunately, so many factors in modern life—such as diet, stress, antibacterial products, hidden contaminants in food, and antibiotics both in food and as medicine—can deplete the beneficial microbes that we count on for our physical, mental, and emotional health. Without enough of the good guys in our gut making important chemicals and communicating with our brain, feeling and functioning our best may be just out of reach.
Fortunately, taking a daily multi-strain probiotic formula like Hyperbiotics PRO-15 can help ensure that you consistently have enough of the good guys in your gut to adequately communicate with your brain.
Unlike most probiotics on the market, PRO-15 utilizes a patented delivery method called BIO-Tract® that forms a protective layer around the pearl tablet to protect the live organisms within. Insulated from your harsh stomach acids, the probiotics can safely travel deep into your gut, right where you need them.
Emotions—both positive and negative—enrich our lives each and every day. Replenishing the good bacteria in your gut with a healthy whole-foods diet, prebiotics, and a probiotic supplement will help keep your body and mind calm, healthy, and happy.
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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