The word probiotics is a familiar term to many of us but a new word is emerging that is on the same line but with a twist. Psychobiotics is essentially the same thing as a probiotic - it uses live organisms from foods such as yogurt to improve the health of our gut bacteria just like probiotics except psychobiotics are meant to enhance a health effect in people suffering from a psychiatric illness and may be an alternative treatment option for depression and other mental disorders.
Instead of being called a probiotic, they are called psychobiotics and several preclinical studies have shown a link between specific probiotics and beneficial behavioral effects. When a person is diagnosed with a mental condition, they may be reluctant to take antidepressants which can have side effects such as weight gain, insomnia, or reduced sex drive. Using a more natural psychobiotic may be a viable alternative for them to consider.
It has been well-researched that probiotics, which contain live bacteria, help maintain a healthy digestive system. Now it appears that not only does our gut health rely on probiotics, but our brain health may also. Just in the last 10-15 years, studies have shown that there is a gut-brain connection. Studies on mice have shown that when the right strain of bacteria was added to their diet, it enhanced their immune function, they had better reactions to stress, and they even demonstrated better learning and memory.
Studies in humans have been more difficult to determine since changes in mood are self-reported and could be effected by other things besides a probiotic. However, physiological changes such as reduced cortical levels and inflammation have been noted when a probiotic is given.
The health of the gut is a key player in our immune health and the brain looks to also be positively affected by this. The gut is the largest immune organ in the body accounting for more than 25% of the immune cells that provide 50% of the body’s immune response. There are more than 400 species of bacteria living in the gut and they have a symbiotic relationship with other organs in the body, including the brain.
There are 100 trillion bacteria in our intestines referred to as the intestinal flora. These tiny microbes are in important part of the development and function of the immune system. The intestinal bacteria can be separated into good (beneficial), opportunistic, and bad categories. Beneficial bacteria help maintain health by resisting bad bacteria and they aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. The use of probiotics is to help restore the balance in the intestinal microbiota so the good bacteria always have the upper hand.
Some of the best food sources of probiotics that can also be termed as a psychobiotic include yogurt with live bacteria, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso soup, pickles, kefir, and tempeh.
At this time, use of probiotics as a psychobiotic for mental conditions is in the early stages of figuring out if and how they can be used effectively to treat such illnesses. Consumers at this time can certainly choose to consume foods containing live bacteria or probiotics to add to their daily diet. However, there is still much research needing to be done and questions to be answered as to what strains of bacteria offer special benefits, how they work, whether they offset other benefits, and how they will be regulated.
In the meantime, it is best to consult with their doctor on the best treatment for their condition but to eat a healthy diet using foods containing probiotics that at the very least, could have a positive effect on their gut health.