The gastrointestinal system is in constant communication with the brain, with signals flowing back and forth influencing our decisions, mood and general wellbeing. We've known for a while now that our gut affects the way we feel. Remember the last time you were just about to go in for a job interview, or speak in front of a large crowd? In most cases you would have felt nauseous, experienced butterflies or suffered a stomach ache. This is the result of the connection between the gastrointestinal system and the brain, know as the 'gut-brain axis' - a fancy name for the communication network that links the pair. Research is now emerging that the ecosystem of bacteria and microbes that live in your digestive tract - known as gut microbiome - could impact the way you think and feel.
According to Professor Jeroen Raes, a microbiologist at the University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, "the gut-brain axis is an area that only recently started getting traction. We know that in a great number of mental illnesses – and we’re looking as broad as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, to depression and anxiety – gut microbiota (micro-organisms) are disturbed or altered in patients."
Bacteria for Good
Earlier this year, Professor Raes and his team published research that found people with depression had consistently low levels of certain bacteria whether they took antidepressants or not. The researchers drew on medical tests and GP records to look for links between depression, quality of life and microbes lurking in the faeces of more than 1,000 people. They found that two kinds of bugs, Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus, were both more common in people who claimed to enjoy a high mental quality of life. Meanwhile, those with depression had lower than average levels of the bacteria species Coprococcus and Dialister.
Animal studies also strengthened the theory above. In a study by Chinese researchers, gut microbiota samples were taken from patients with major depressive disorders and planted in germ-free mice. As these mice took part in a swimming task, they were quicker to quit, suggesting the loss of interest was a result of the sense of hopelessness associated with depression.
Do Probiotics Help Mental Health?
Recently, scientists have started observing the role of probiotics on supporting good mental health. This year researchers reviewed 21 studies that had examined more than 1,500 people, but overall, only 11 studies showed a positive effect on anxiety symptoms by regulating intestinal bacteria. Professor Julio Licinio, who co-authored the paper linking schizophrenia with an impoverished gut microbiota, says probiotics may have the potential to impact mental health regulating our gut bacteria, but more research needs to be done. In theory, he explains, it might be that replenishing those missing organisms may act as a form of treatment in the future. “But we first need to prove the causality before we can make that statement.”
Recently, PERKii Probiotics featured in the full article linking gut health and mental wellbeing by Men's Fitness Magazine, with PERKii as their top rated probiotic drink. "Made in Queensland, each PERKii contains more than a billion probiotics designed to make your gut healthier. They contain no added sugar and taste as you’d expect: delicious." So while scientists can't accurately determine if probiotics have any benefit on mental health, there are a number of other benefits associated with consuming probiotics, that have been explored in these blogs on Lactobacillus Casei and Bifodobacterium.