Everyone feels down from time to time. We can’t be happy campers 24/7. However, it’s not natural either to be depressed for half of your waking hours. What exactly is going on in your brain that’s causing you to be a downer? Do probiotics, which normally benefits the gut, play a role in any extent? According to the latest studies, you can actually take probiotics for depression and feel a bit better.
Depression is normal; if you get dumped by your significant other or if your beloved cat dies, you’re going to be depressed for a while. Depression caused by external factors, though, is temporary. Depression becomes problematic when it’s chronic, triggered by minor situations, or seemingly arises for no reason. This is when it becomes a medical issue. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression afflicts 40 million American adults. Roughly half of people with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
What causes depression at the physiological level? Most doctors say it’s a chemical imbalance, which is true but also a gross overgeneralization. The mechanisms that take place in the brain is extremely complex and one we’re just beginning to understand.
For starters, the hippocampus on average is slightly smaller among people diagnosed with depression. Stress can also take its toll by suppressing neurogenesis, or the release of new neurons in the hippocampus.
Other regions in the brain include the amygdala, which shows heightened activity when a subject is clinically depressed. Another is the thalamus, which bridges the connection between sensory input and pleasant/unpleasant feelings.
On the surface, probiotics appear to be totally unrelated to our mental state. While probiotics are located throughout the body, the majority reside in the gut. How could microbiota activity in our stomach affect what’s taking place in the brain?
Let’s explore the available medical research. In one study, 44 patients with irritable bowel syndrome and mild bouts of depression went on a 10-week probiotic supplementation regimen. The group took evaluations to determine their general mood and well-being. 64% of subjects from the probiotic group reduced their depression scores, compared to 32% for the placebo group.
Another noteworthy study is one from the Leiden University Institute for Psychological Research in Holland. 40 non-depressed subjects were given either a multi-strain probiotic or placebo before being subjected to a series of stressful situations. The probiotic group subsequently scored lower than the placebo group on the Leiden Index of Depression and Sensitivity (LEIDS). LEIDS measures cognitive reactivity to certain external stressors.
Probiotics for depression works; that much we can tell from the studies. Researchers are also looking into the gut-brain connection, as an increasing body of research suggests a direct link. In other words, what goes on in your gut influences brain activity and vice versa.
As it turns out, probiotics produce various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, acetylcholine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). As the gut secretes these neurotransmitters, it triggers cells within the gut lining to signal certain brain functions, mood, and behavior.
That’s not all; studies also show that probiotics may alter activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Dysfunction in this part of the brain has bee linked to a spike in stress-related hormones, such as cortisol.
In past posts, we talked a lot about the dangers of inflammation in the body. Here’s something else to consider: inflammation also occurs in the brain, albeit at the microscopic level. Studies also show a link between general inflammation and depression. It stands to reason then that by reducing inflammation you also reduce depression as a natural consequence. Studies have long shown probiotics to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The studies show such a strong link between probiotics and depression that researchers are beginning to coin the term “psychobioitcs” to describe the effects of probiotics for treating mood disorders. Psychobiotics, though, don’t just describe probiotics in general. More specifically, it refers to a specific set of strains proven in studies to have a positive effect on mood and cognition. The strains mostly include those in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Studies show that psychobiotics exert some form of manipulation in gut-brain signaling. In another clinical trial, patients went on an eight-week supplementation of psychobiotics or a placebo. At the conclusion of the trial, subjects in the psychobiotics group scored significantly lower on the Beck Depression Inventory, used to measure the severity of depressive symptoms. No statistical significance was observed for the placebo group.
We’re not suggesting that taking probiotics will make you as happy as a clam. However, evidence strongly hints that it may help you ease anxiety and deal with stressful situations. This is where a supplement like Floracil50 comes in. It has the strains that make it a psychobiotic product. You’ll strengthen the gut-brain connection, thereby reducing inflammation while improving mood.
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