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That “gut feeling” linked to psychobiotics of the gut-brain axis

Probiotics do wonders to preserve, protect and enhance the balance of the gut-brain axis, the proven connection between your brain, emotions and intestines. A recent report is shedding light on the role of gut microbes play on those proverbial gut feelings and our overall state of mind.

A review article, recently featured in the medical journal Biological Psychiatry, referred to a probiotic as a psychobiotic, “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.

As a class of probiotic, these bacteria are capable of producing and delivering neuroactive substances such as gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin, which act on the brain-gut axis.”

While the psychobiotic appears to be no more than a superficial name-change, apparently, researchers looked at this as a way to expand how science looks at probiotics.

Works like a probiotic

Out of all of the studies reviewed by researchers from University College Cork in Ireland, one that stood out measured the potential benefits from B. infantis in young rats displaying depressive behaviors due to maternal separation.

Early life stressors, like maternal separation, have been found to affect the microbiomes of animals for the long term. No surprise, giving those test animals a probiotic improved their compromised immune systems as well as normalized their behaviors.

The report also cited the anti-inflammatory properties of psychobiotics/probiotics, a key benefit since inflammation in the body is linked to stress and depression.

“The intestinal microbial balance may alter the regulation of inflammatory responses and, in so doing, may be involved in the modulation of mood and behavior,” researchers said.

Acts like a probiotic

Cork researchers concluded emotional problems linked to the dysfunction of the gut-brain axis could affect other health problems linked to immune deficiencies ranging from syphilis to Lyme disease. What’s more, they believe, as a growing number of health professionals do, improving immune functioning with the help of probiotics/psychobiotics may alleviate them.

In fact, Dr. Mark Lyte, director of translational research at Texas Tech University, says probiotics/psychobiotics may do much more than modulate the immune system. Gut microbes could be producing microtransmitters than communicate with the brain.

“I’m actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria,” Dr. Lyte told NPR. “These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms.”

Are probiotics/psychobiotics the ultimate anti-stress pill? No matter what you call them, the surge of interest and data being generated in medical research certainly demonstrates their benefits in protecting and improving the gut-brain axis safely, without a drug. And, the benefits of probiotics or psychobiotics could go far beyond that axis, and may be a gentler replacement down the road for depression medication.

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