The plot keeps thickening when it comes to the connection between your gut and your brain.
A new review article links probiotics to changes in mood and mental health, suggesting these “good” bacteria might have potential as a treatment for depression and other psychiatric maladies. In the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers define the term “psychobiotic” as “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.”
These organisms act on what researchers call the “brain-gut axis,” a biological network connecting the intestinal and endocrine systems to the spinal cord and regions in the brain that process stress, such as the HPA-axis.
Is all this plausible? Perhaps. Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone” and produced in the intestines, was recently found to play a role in the development of chronic stress. And stress in turn has been found to alter our microbiota. There’s growing evidence that there’s a special connection between the gut and the brain, and as one MGH psychiatrist said recently: “There is a neural feedback from the gut to the brain so chronic gastrointestinal distress can exacerbate anxiety or depression.”
Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, stated last December that how “differences in our microbial world influence the development of brain and behavior will be one of the great frontiers of clinical neuroscience in the next decade.”
Dr. Timothy Dinan of University College Cork in Ireland and the psychobiotic study’s lead author says that although the research conducted on humans is sparse, “the animal studies indicate that certain psychobiotics can change brain chemistry.”
Irritable Bowel Syndrome seems like an obvious target for a study of probiotics; the “benevolent” bacteria are known to affect the chemistry of the gut.
But depression? Does this fit into the thinking that the gut is kind of a second brain??
Anyway, this from MGH:
BOSTON (November 23, 2010) —A new clinical trial is underway at the Massachusetts General Hospital to assess the safety and efficacy of the probiotic bacteria GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) in outpatients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and major depressive disorder (MDD). This research is believed to be the first of its kind to examine common factors underlying both gut and psychiatric disorders and the use of probiotics as an intervention in depression.
Details and the rationale behind the study are here. The study’s lead researcher notes that there’s such a huge overlap between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and psychiatric disorders that “it is perhaps more than just coincidental.”
Probiotics are certainly trendy. They’re showing up in everything from yoghurt to supplement powders. Some studies show some benefits — this review found that probiotics shortened the duration of diarrhea. But this assessment of yoghurt claims by the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests that some of the benefits — at least as touted in food ads and labeling — may be overstated.
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