Psychobiotics: How Bugs in the Gut Can Make You Happier
Psychobiotics & Mental Health: Going Beyond the Gut
It is now well known that probiotics can confer a number of health benefits to the recipients. A recent addition to the emerging health benefits of probiotics is their role in mental health. A wealth of study supports the idea that taking right probiotics can enhance your mental function or even reduce the risk of certain mental illnesses. For this reason, scientists call these brain-boosting bacteria psychobiotics.
How do psychobiotics work to enhance mental well-being and what benefits you can expect to get by taking these supplements?
A Quick Overview of Status of Mental Illnesses in the US & Psychobiotics
Well, going by the stats, Americans don’t seem to be the happiest people in the world.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
Likewise, nearly 50 percent of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are the most common mental illnesses that cripple the lives of millions of Americans.
Psychobiotics are live bacteria that can affect brain functions. Very recently, scientists have found that a cocktail of friendly bacteria Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum can reduce cortisol levels. Note that your adrenal glands secrete cortisol, the stress hormone, in response to a stressor.
There is a strong link between chronic high levels of cortisol and depression and anxiety disorders.
Major Effects of Psychobiotics on Your Mental Health
Numerous studies have shown that there exists a unique association between your gut and brain and they call this gut-brain connection. Psychobiotics alter this connection and can induce beneficial effects when you take the right supplements. Here are 3 ways how they work.
2 Ways Psychobiotics Improve Your Mood... For Good!
1 - Psychobiotics alter neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that facilitate communication among brain cells. Examples include Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), acetylcholine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and glutamate. They have a significant role in memory, mood, behavior and stress response. Conventional treatments for mental illnesses work to restore the normal levels of these chemicals in the brain.
For example, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac helps to restore serotonin levels and doctors commonly prescribe it for depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Studies have found that eating probiotics can affect the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. In one study, researchers found that probiotics reduced symptoms of stress in participants.
2 - Psychobiotics activate your body’s own happiness machine. Sounds weird? But it’s true. Psychobiotics are known to activate a complex system of chemicals that have mood-enhancing and stress-lowering effects on the brain. This system is called endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Your body has a natural cannabis-like chemical called anandamide which needs to bind to endocannabinoid receptors to show the effects. Psychobiotics can increase the number of these receptors and keep you relaxed in stressful situations.
What are the Best Sources of Psychobiotics?
The two most common and highly effective sources of psychobiotics are yogurt and sauerkraut, according to experts. Similarly, high-quality supplements that contain most of the beneficial strains of bacteria can be another best option to consider.
The Bottom Line
Psychobiotics have shown results in various animal and human models of study. That being said, they can be a new approach to treating or even preventing common mental illnesses. For example, depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Most notably, some studies have also studied the effects of psychobiotics on autism and hepatic encephalopathy (psychiatric problems that arise due to impaired liver function). Altogether, the results are promising.
Another reason to consider psychobiotics for mental illnesses is that available conventional treatments have many side effects. Taking probiotics is relatively convenient and generally causes fewer side effects.
However, you should never replace prescribed medications with psychobiotics. Doing so can worsen your disease as mental illnesses. Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements.