Perhaps sheer numbers tell the tale. Our body has about 10 trillion “human” cells, but has nearly 100 trillion bacterial cells. That’s ten times as many bacterial cells. They’re there for a reason, too.
Among those bacteria are probiotics—the good bacteria that keep us healthy. What’s intriguing about probiotics is that each probiotic strain can offer a range of beneficial biochemical effects, which is why it’s wise to partake of a variety of probiotics for maximum protection and health.
As you know, probiotics provide a wide array of benefits, too. They are key to proper digestion and nutrient absorption, while playing a major role in a healthy immune system. They also can support healthy blood sugar levels, weight, metabolism and even your mood.
Yes. Your mood.
More specifically, certain probiotics could lower stress hormones, stress responses, anxiety and even depression. At least, those are the conclusions with test animals. A few years back, a study conducted out of the University College Cork in Ireland divided mice into two groups: one was a control group, while the other one was fed Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a well-known probiotic. After a few weeks, the university’s study leader put the mice in bowls of water to swim—something mice don’t relish and that stresses them out—although mice are capable swimmers.
During this water test, the control group swam for only about four minutes, but became exhausted and gave up in “behavior despair.” The mice fed the probiotics, however, were less stressed out and swam around the bowl up to the six-minute mark, and then were removed from the water.
But here’s the kicker: the natural stress hormones called corticosteroids were 100-fold higher in the mice of the control group, while the probiotic-fed mice had half as much of the stress hormones and showed a significant change in their Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) receptors. GABA, by the way, is the major inhibitory receptor in the central nervous system, which helps to induce relaxation and sleep. Not surprisingly, GABA also plays a large role in anxiety disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and more.
In short, the probiotic-fed mice were similar to calm animals with their lower stress measurements, while the mice in the control group were entirely stressed out. What makes this even more significant is that, for the first time ever, it was demonstrated that probiotics have a potential role as a direct, positive effect on brain neurochemistry in “normal” stressful situations.
Other studies on Lactobacilli strains of probiotics and their mood-boosting outcomes exist, too. For instance, in the March 2009 issue of Gut Pathogens, it was noted that patients taking Lactobacillus casei had improved scores on mood testing after eight weeks of probiotic supplementation.
Additionally, a Molecular Psychiatry report indicates that people with depression have signs of increased oxidative stress in the brain regions involved in reward-related behavior. However, Lactobacillus casei decreases oxidative cell damage, according to research published in the Journal of Nutrition.
In addition to Lactobacilli strains of probiotics, Bifidobacteria strains of probiotics have been established to reduce increases in the stress-induced hormone corticosterone. By supporting the body with these probiotics, the development of mood disorders may be diminished by modulating the population of intestinal bacteria.
The truth is that, while probiotics already boast plenty of health benefits, they also appear to have the potential to positively alter brain neurochemistry to help fight off stress hormones, stress responses, anxiety, depression and more.
The bottom line is that probiotics may help us chill out—and that could be good news for the 40 million Americans who suffer from anxiety disorders and the 14.8 million Americans with major depressive disorder—among other difficulties.