Probiotics are good bacteria, a combination of live beneficial bacteria or/and yeast that serve various health benefits, the foremost being keeping your gut healthy. These form an essential part of your gut microflora and are usually a few billion microbes working in tandem to digest food, synthesize essential by-products, and maintain digestive health, among others. However, recent studies such as those published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (EGCN) found that probiotics could also positively affect your brain and stress levels.
The Gut-Brain Connection
According to multiple research studies, the gut and brain are connected via a gut-brain axis. This bridge is due to biochemical signaling between the enteric nervous system in the digestive tract and the central nervous system, including the brain. The vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body, drives this connection between the brain and the gut.
One prime example is how the gut signals the brain to regulate our appetite by telling the nervous system that it is time to stop eating. Twenty minutes after this message is relayed, your gut microbes secrete proteins that suppress appetite, and this window is usually the same amount of time it takes for people to start feeling full.
Effective Stress Management
One study published by the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork in the Republic of Ireland hypothesized that a deficiency of some gut bacteria could change areas in our brain involved in processing feelings of anxiety and depression.
Yet another research has found the link between probiotics and mood, especially how these microorganisms may enhance mood and cognitive function while lowering stress and anxiety. For example, a study published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed that Alzheimer’s patients who consumed milk made with four probiotic bacteria species reported better scores on a test to judge cognitive impairment compared to the test group that drank regular milk.
Cortisol is a stress hormone released in the body when we go in fight-or-flight mode or when feeling threatened, stressed, or unsafe. This hormone is characterized by increased heart rate and blood pressure as our body perceives stress. The presence of cortisol in our body is directly linked to stress levels. The greater the cortisol released, the greater the stress experienced. A detailed study concluded that including prebiotics in a regular diet has been shown to lower cortisol levels and stress levels. Although the study showed negligible benefits on the quality and span of sleep, the effect on stress levels was quite significant.
Another small study published in Gastroenterology found that participants who consumed yogurt with a mix of probiotics twice a day for four weeks were calmer when exposed to external stressors than the control group. MRI scans of the yogurt group revealed a lower activity in the insula, the part of the brain responsible for processing internal body sensations like those from the gut.
Much of this research is still ongoing or in the nascent stages of discovery. It may be too early to determine the total extent of probiotic organisms’ role in the gut-brain connection. However, the current literature is quite promising; probiotics may support not only a healthier gut but also a healthier brain.
Probiotics, in general, offer great benefits to your health and well-being; the additional stress-relief factor only enhances their goodness. Given the global mental health crises and the rising graph of stress levels across multiple age groups, more research on probiotic organisms could potentially offer key insights into managing the situation effectively.