I’ve been eating yogurt ever since I was in college. It’s yummy, friendly to your digestion and the perfect thing for a quick breakfast or snack. And it’s cheap. (Who has money in college?)
Later, I learned that I was smarter than I thought.
Because yogurt contains probiotics — “good guys” or friendly bacteria — chasing away the “bad guys” — or damaging bacteria from your digestive system.
So, probiotics are known to promote a healthy gut, but can they promote a healthy mind?
UCLA researchers have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans.
In an early study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed probiotics (through yogurt) showed improvement in “brain power”.
The discovery showed that changing the bacterial environment, or microbiota, in the gut can significantly affect the workings of the brain.
“Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium or because we think it might help our health in other ways,” said Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
“Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment.
When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.”
In an admittedly small study involving 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55, with no gastrointestinal or psychiatric symptoms, researchers divided the women into three groups.
One group ate a specific fermented yogurt containing a mix of several probiotics, twice a day for four weeks.
Another group of 11 women ate a nonfermented dairy product that looked and tasted like the yogurt but contained no probiotics. (They were the controls.)
And a third group of 13 women ate no product at all.
The third group experienced a decrease in the brain that includes emotion, cognition, and sensory-related areas.
In turn, the women in the other two groups showed a stable or increased activity in this network.
“The researchers were surprised to find that the brain effects could be seen in many areas, including those involved in sensory processing and not merely those associated with emotion,” Tillisch said.
“This study is unique because it is the first to show an interaction between a probiotic and the brain in humans,” he continued.
“Western diet is high in fat and carbohydrates,” said Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine, physiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s senior author.
“Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.”
The UCLA researchers are seeking to pinpoint particular chemicals produced by gut bacteria that may be triggering the signals to the brain.
“The knowledge that signals are sent from the intestine to the brain and that they can be modulated by a dietary change is likely to lead to an expansion of research aimed at finding new strategies to prevent or treat digestive, mental and neurological disorders,” Mayer told Medscape Medical News.
Other research, led by Professor Mark Lyte from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, proposes that through a unifying process of microbial endocrinology, neurochemical-producing probiotics could act as a delivery mechanism for neuroactive compounds that could improve gastrointestinal and psychological health.
“This paper proposes a new field of microbial endocrinology, where microbiology meets neuroscience,” said Lyte.
There is already evidence to suggest that the connection between gut microbes and the nervous system represents a viable route for influencing neurological function.”
In his hypothesis, Professor Lyte considers the selection of probiotics, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, and how the active uptake of neurochemicals, generated by bacteria in the gut and circulated through a patient’s bloodstream, represents a pathway for probiotics to exert extra-intestinal effects including behavioral changes.
Dr Gregor Reid, from the University of Western Ontario, outlined some of the potential clinical implications of this research:
“Until recently the idea that probiotic bacteria administered to the intestine could influence the brain seemed almost surreal,” said Reid.
“Yet in Lyte’s paper the concept is supported by studies showing that microbes can produce and respond to neurochemicals, which can induce neurological and immunological effects.”
In short, microbial strains already being widely ingested in fermented food can produce neurochemicals.”
The authors say their study proves what has been suspected for some time.
Now researchers are focusing on finding the chemicals that the gut produces which send signals to the brain.
It’s all very healthy and encouraging “food for thought.”
Other articles of interest:
Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds
Zinc Can Help You Think!
Brain Food for Your Health…
Foods That Fight Stress…
Fighting Seizures Nutritionally
To subscribe to Epilepsytalk.com and get the latest articles by email, simply go to the bottom box of the right column and click on “Sign me up!”
About the author
Phylis Feiner Johnson has been a professional copywriter for 30 years. She also spent 20 years with epilepsy. She writes from the heart to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. For further information, contact The Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania at http://www.efepa.org/ and please make a contribution to become an advocate, too.