Probiotics-those good little bugs that live inside of your intestines- have recently gotten a lot of attention in the news and rightly so. It seems that gut flora may provides up to 25% of the neurotransmitters our body uses every day for typical day to day functions. These functions include normal mood and balancing out stress. It seems as if these bacteria play an important role in regulating those feelings. This lends credibility to the cliche-that someone has a gut feeling about something.
A recent study from McMaster University found that probiotic use is linked to improve symptoms of depression. A new study further provides evidence that the gut flora interacts directly with our brain in producing specific neurotransmitters which are associated with depression. The bacteria that has been most often linked to the reduction of depression symptoms is bifidobacterium longum.
This pilot study involved 44 people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and mild-moderate depression. After 10 weeks of taking bifidobacterium longum, 64%of patients taking a probiotic had a decreased depression score compared with only 32% of those patients given a placebo. Additional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) testing showed that there were specific changes in multiple areas of the brain involved in mood control.
The study also points to the importance of monitoring symptoms in patients with depression such as abdominal pain, diarrhea & constipation, in that they may actually be symptoms of a bacterial overgrowth or dysbiosis and not be caused by the patients actual anxiety or depression.
The good news for people with depression, is that bifidobacterium longum is widely available. We use a form of this particular probiotic in my practice and we have seen great results when combined with prebiotics such as inulin.
When I was a contributing editor for Psychology Today, I wrote about the benefits of probiotics and dealing with anxiety and depression. It seems as if now we’re finally getting the additional proof that these bacteria do in fact have profound effects. In time other underlying causes such as food allergies and sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies which cause IBS and are linked to depression will be better understood.