Our guts are intricately connected to our brains. This explains why we get butterflies in our stomachs when we’re worried about an upcoming public speaking event, or why we feel digestive discomfort when work is stressing us out.
According to Harvard Health Publications, the gut-brain connection works both ways. The brain can have a direct effect on the gut and the gut can have a direct effect on the brain, meaning that a person’s digestive issues can be either the cause or the product of their anxiety, stress, or depression.
Probiotics are just one way to help support a healthy gut, and now there’s new research saying that these beneficial, live bacteria are linked to reduced symptoms of depression. In a McMaster University study, participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who took a specific probiotic were twice as likely to experience improvements in their depression symptoms than those who weren’t taking probiotics.
The study involved monitoring 44 adults with IBS and mild anxiety for a period of 10 weeks. 22 participants were given the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 while the remaining 22 participants were given a placebo. After just six weeks, 14 of the participants taking the probiotic (64 percent) showed decreased depression scores compared to only 7 of the participants taking the placebo (32 percent).
The improvements in depression scores were a result of changes in several regions of the brain, which the researchers observed from brain scans that were taken. This is the first study that has found a link between probiotics and and improvements in depression among humans, but a larger-scale trial is planned for the future to confirm it.
A related study that was recently conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that they could reverse symptoms of depression in mice by feeding them a specific probiotic called Lactobacillus, which is found in some varieties of yogurt. The researchers examined the gut microbiomes of the mice both before and after they were subjected to stress so they could identify how the gut might impact depression symptoms.
Lactobacillus was shown to decrease when the mice were subjected to stress. Decreased levels of Lactobacillus led to increased levels of kynurenine in the blood and the onset of depression symptoms. But when the mice were fed Lactobacillus with their food, their mood states were restored almost completely back to normal.
The researchers were careful to note that mice probably don’t experience depression the way humans do and instead described the mice as exhibiting ”depressive-like behavior” or “despair behaivor.” The next step is to study the effects of Lactobacillus on people.
Probiotics may not offer a complete solution to battling depression at this point in time, but understanding their role in the gut-brain connection could help researchers develop more natural and effective forms of treatment as an aid or alternative to medication. The findings so far are promising, but there’s a lot more that needs to be understood.
Whether you’re dealing with depression symptoms or not, incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet could be a great way to boost your overall health. Check out these 10 vegan sources of probiotics to help balance the bacteria in your gut and maybe even lend a hand to soothing your emotional state, too.
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