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Probiotics: The Healthy Happy Pill

Bacteria is bad right? We use antibiotics and hand sanitizer to banish bacteria from our lives and live in sanitary environments in the hopes of staving off illness. But we are just beginning to understand the seminal role that healthy bacteria play in our lives. You see, bacteria is responsible for the proper digestion of our food, for improving our immune systems and, new studies show, even our happiness and mental health.

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Probiotics reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety

In the past, many studies have suggested that healthy gut bacteria can reduce stress and anxiety in mice. Now a promising new study from Oxford University shows that prebiotics (foods that promote and support healthy gut bacteria) alter the way we process emotional messages. The addition of prebiotics to patient’s diets meant that healthy probiotic gut bacteria flourished and respondents focused less on negative information and had lower cortisol levels.

Dr. Philip Burnet, lead researcher and neurobiologist: “Prebiotics are dietary fibers (short chains of sugar molecules) that good bacteria break down, and use to multiply. Prebiotics are ‘food’ for good bacteria already present in the gut. Taking prebiotics therefore increases the numbers of all species of good bacteria in the gut, which will theoretically have greater beneficial effects than [introducing] a single species.”

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Probiotics improve brain function

Another study from UCLA found that women who regularly ate yogurt with probiotics had improved brain function. Lead researcher Dr. Kirsten Tillisch: “Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut. Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.”

You have two kinds of nervous systems; the well-known central nervous system and the lesser-known enteric nervous system which consists of your intestinal tract. The two systems are connected by the vagus nerve which your gut utilizes to transmit information to your brain. You already know what it feels like when your brain sends information to your stomach as we’ve all felt ‘butterflies’ when we are nervous, or the gut-wrenching feelings of fear and anxiety. Now studies show that your gut actually sends far more information to your brain. This is how your gut can influence anxiety, depression and even autism.

Probiotics reduce depression symptoms

A study at the University of Toronto found that probiotics administered to patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) led to a significant reduction in their symptoms of depression and anxiety by boosting the neurotransmitter L-tryptophan. Rao, lead researcher on the study: “We were quite excited with the fact that these were positive results and we felt that probiotics truly have a role to play in the management of neurophysiological disorders such as anxiety, such as depression and other symptoms associated with that. Rather than going into medications, which may result in side effects, it’s a safe, it’s a very easy way to manage problems such as that.”

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How to get more probiotics into your diet

Mounting evidence shows that probiotics are essential to the healthy functioning of bodies and brains. You can get your daily dose of probiotics from organic yogurt with live bacteria, from fermented drinks like kaffir and from organic sourdough breads which contain not only probiotics, but also prebiotics which are the foods that probiotics need to thrive. Add probiotics and prebiotics to your diet today for a healthy body and a healthy mind.

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