A connection between the gut and the brain has been accepted by the medical community for some time, and probiotics that change the gut microflora may offer potential treatments for mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.
The gut-brain connection is not yet understood, but it's become clear there is a relationship between the millions of microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract and how the brain works.
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"The gut and brain have a steady ability to communicate via the nervous system, hormones, and the immune system," according to Psychology Today
. "Some of the microbiome can release neurotransmitters, just like our own neurons do, speaking to the brain in its own language via the vagus nerve. To have a full understanding of how the whole gut-brain connection works, you need robust knowledge of endocrinology, immunology, pathology, and neurology."
Even as more research is being done to determine exactly how changes in the gut can affect mental health, some studies have found probiotics might be a helpful tool for treatment.
Here are five studies that show a connection between probiotics and depression or anxiety:
1. In one 2009 study
, researchers looked at chronic fatigue syndrome and some of the emotional components of that disease, specifically anxiety. They found that patients given a probiotic strain of Lactobacillus casei Shirota reported significantly less anxiety than patients given a placebo.
2. A 2011 study found
giving patients Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 for 30 days decreased their reports of hospital anxiety and depression.
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3. A connection between acne, depression, and anxiety has long been recognized in the medical community. In an article about the connection published in the open-access journal Gut Pathogens
, researchers listed several studies that found the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus, sometimes combined with a Bifidobacterium strain, impacted and improved acne and other mental health symptoms.
4. A British study found that 45 healthy people who took a prebiotic, a chemical that helps the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms in your system, found that they had "less anxiety about negative or threatening stimuli" than people who took a placebo, according to LiveScience
. There was, however, no reported difference in the participants' ratings of their stress and anxiety levels.
5. A UCLA study in 2013 found that women who took probiotics had less activity in their brains during scans when they were viewing pictures of people with emotional expressions on their faces, LiveScience said. They were compared to women who were given a placebo.
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