Feel like your life is in a rut and going nowhere? Help with your mood and attitude may reside not only in your head but in your digestive tract. The friendly bacteria that live down there, known as probiotics, may produce neurochemicals that could improve your mental outlook and beneficially alter your brain chemistry.
Your digestive tract is home to about a thousand-trillion bacteria that are necessary for optimal health. These microorganisms extract nutrients from your food, help the immune system fight off infections and keep pathogenic bacteria from colonizing the cells of the intestines. They may also determine whether your metabolism functions efficiently enough to keep your weight under control.
Your health would suffer terribly without the miniscule organisms that protect a large part of your body. And now researchers are finding that these little bugs may also influence your mood and how you act with friends, family and business associates.
In laboratory experiments at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute, scientists demonstrated that changing the types and amounts of bacteria in the gut can shift passive behavior to a more aggressive stance. The right probiotics have the potential to metamorphosize a milquetoast Clark Kent into a strident superhero.
To demonstrate this type of effect, scientists took animals bred to be laid back and passive and colonized their alimentary canals with bacteria from animals that were more daring and active. After the probiotic transplant, the animals became more active, exploratory and socially adventuresome. Instead of acting like a wallflower, each was now the life of the party.1
Healthy Probiotics, Healthy Mind
Interestingly, the theory that conditions in your gastrointestinal tract can affect your mood is not new. It originated more than 70 years ago. In the first half of the 20th century, dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury found evidence that your emotions varied with the microorganisms in your gut and that depression was linked to unhealthy substances crossing over from your intestines into the bloodstream (leaky gut syndrome). They observed that when you lacked probiotics and your intestinal walls were compromised, you were vulnerable to inflammation of your internal organs, your skin and your mind. In that way, these doctors wrote in 1930, the state of your digestive tract was intimately involved with depression problems, acne and symptoms of anxiety.2
These doctors also recognized that if you had very little stomach acid, pathogens were more likely to invade your digestive tract and cause health issues. (Normally, stomach acid kills off many of the problematic microorganisms in food.) As treatment, they recommended the most readily available probiotics of their day: yogurt (containing the acidophilus bacteria), along with cod liver oil.
In other words, they told their patients to take probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids (found in the cod liver oil), medical advice that is only now starting to be accepted by mainstream medicine.
Probiotics For A Better Mood
A range of recent studies support the notion that probiotics can boost your mood. Scientists in France found that a month of taking probiotics significantly alleviated people’s feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, anxiety and anger. In addition, probiotics were found to reduce the secretion of cortisol (a damaging stress hormone).3 In a British study of about four dozen people who suffered irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), researchers found that prebiotic supplements (fiber that feeds beneficial bacteria) reduced anxiety.4
Writing in the journal Gut Pathogens, Whitney Bowe and Alan Logan point out that it is remarkable that these ideas linking probiotics, the brain and the rest of the body were recognized way back in 1930. But today, these scientists say, we have a chance to scientifically establish how bacteria in the gut communicate with “mood-regulating neurotransmitters.”5
Because we can now more closely observe how the brain develops, scientists are examining how probiotics actually change the structure of the brain in beneficial ways. “The take-home message is that gut bacteria influences anxiety-like behavior through alterations in the way the brain is wired,” says Jane Foster, a researcher at the Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. Foster believes that the probiotics in your gut not only influence your mood, but can change your mind and temperament.
Increasingly, the research on these tiny creatures that live in our digestive tract supports the notion that if you want a dynamic personality, you need dynamic probiotics.
1 Emmanuel Denou, Wendy Jackson, Jun Lu, Patricia Blennerhassett, Kathy McCoy, Elena F. Verdu, Stephen M. Collins, Premysl Bercik. The Intestinal Microbiota Determines Mouse Behavior and Brain BDNF Levels.Gastroenterology, Vol. 140, Issue 5, Supplement 1, Page S-57
2 Stokes JH, Pillsbury DH. The effect on the skin of emotional and nervous states: theoretical and practical consideration of a gastrointestinal mechanism. Arch Dermatol Syphilol.1930;22:962 — 93
3 Messaoudi M, Lalonde R, Violle N, Javelot H, Desor D, Nejdi A, Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation ( Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2010
4 Silk DB, Davis A, Vulevic J, Tzortzis G, Gibson GR. Clinical trial: the effects of a trans-galactooligosaccharide prebiotic on faecal microbiota and symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009;29:508 — 18
5 Bowe WP, Logan AC, Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis — back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011 Jan 31;3(1):1.