Psychobiotics: Potential new mental health treatments that leverage the gut microbiota

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression and as many as 80% of us do not seek help. Perhaps we don’t seek help because most of us consider depression and other mood dysfunction as something that defies scientific understanding or is somehow unrelated to human physiology. After all, mood is defined as a temporary state of mind or feeling and how can fickle things such as happiness, anger and irritability be influenced by our metabolism, genetics and biology?

If you’ve read my previous blog entitled “Moods, Microbes and Digestion”, you’d know that scientists are finding important links between mood and metabolism. Specifically, scientific research is exposing the importance of our gut microbiota (i.e., the billions of microbes in our intestines) and its interaction with our central nervous system. In fact, these interactions may hold the key to understanding some of the causes of depression. Gut microbes communicate with the enteric nervous system, which in turn, communicates to the central nervous system via the vagus nerve. In other words, the brain is in constant communication with our Enteric Nervous System, which in turn, is continually listening to the mass of microbes residing in our gut.

So, if the gut microbiota play such as important role in mood disorders, why can’t we just modify our gut flora to eliminate or reduce mood disorders? That’s a good question and a complicated one to answer. In many ways, we do not have the answers to this question since every one of us have unique and diverse populations of microbes in our intestines and we each interact with our gut flora in a personalized way. I have written about this issue in detail in various blogs:

Psychobiotics are probiotic-based interventions that treat mood disorders such as depression and they can include probiotic strains as well as prebiotic supplements. Since gut microbiota are in direct communication with our central nervous system, some researchers believe that psychobiotics, or probiotic strains and supplements that modulate mood, may represent an effective treatment for depression.

However, the efficacy of probiotics for depression is controversial. To address this, Huang, et. al., performed a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials and found that probiotics significantly decreased the depression scale score in the subjects. Specifically, probiotic supplementation had a positive effect on both healthy subjects below the age of 65 and those with major depressive disorders. In a separate study, Pirbaglue, et. al., found that some species of probiotics appeared to reduce both depression and anxiety. These studies further demonstrate the important role that our gut microbiota, and probiotics, play in modulating our mood. Clearly, additional research is required to further elucidate the functional interactions between the gut microbiota and moods so that more efficacious treatments may become available for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.

In these blogs, I always try to emphasize that probiotics are supplements and cannot act as a substitute to a healthy, balanced and diverse diet and the old saying, food is the best medicine, is more relevant now than ever, particularly as it relates to mental health and moods.

At Liberty Bion, Inc.(www.libertybion.com), our mission is to deliver quality natural supplements and healthy living strategies that promotes good health and adds value to the lives of our customers. Our Hero Probiotics™ brand is formulated to support your effort to create a diverse microbiota by delivering 30 billion CFUs of 10 diverse and beneficial probiotic strains per serving.

The scientific literature is abounding in studies demonstrating the role of probiotics in improving human health in the areas of gastrointestinal discomfort, immune function enhancement and resistance to microbial pathogens. Now, with the studies listed above, scientists are beginning to build the case for probiotics as a supplement to improve human mental health.

 

Other Resources:

Huang, et. al., Effect of Probiotics on Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2016 Aug; 8(8): 483.

Pirbaglou, et. al., Probiotic Supplementation Can Positively Affect Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutr. Res. 2016 Jun; 36(9): 889.

 

About the Author:

Douglas Toal, PhD is a Microbiologist with extensive knowledge and expertise in medical and environmental microbiology with additional training in metabolism and anti-aging medicine. He is founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Liberty Bion, Inc.

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