Epilepsy Talk

Probiotics — Food For Thought | November 24, 2013

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

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  1. Be careful picking out yogurt. I have to avoid the ‘light’ yogurts because of the Splenda, sucralose, aspartame, etc. I have had a seizure occur about 20 minutes after eating a whole Yoplait or Greek yogurt. The high sugar might be the culprit though. One or two spoon fulls in a cup with granola seems to do me well.


    Comment by Alan R. — November 25, 2013 @ 12:44 AM

    • Thanks for the advice Alan, it’s a real eye-opener for me. (Although I don’t eat “light” anything!)

      The information about GREEK yogurt really surprised me. (What am I going to have for breakfast now?)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 25, 2013 @ 9:17 AM

  2. Hi Phylis, when I was growing up, there was an old saying: “You are what you eat.” That was before there was junk food.

    Dump out all of the junk and processed foods and we will all live longer. We will be healthier, too.

    The problem is that people are dumping all kinds of junk into the ocean and on land, nuclear waste and all sorts of things.


    Comment by Ruth — November 25, 2013 @ 6:47 AM

  3. It would be nice if they could identify probiotics in yogurt that produced specific seizure reducing neurochemicals.

    Imagine if we could control seizures simply by eating a particular type of yogurt! That would be a dream..


    Comment by Doug — December 8, 2013 @ 11:03 PM

  4. […] I know many of you already know more about this than I do, and if a thread already exists I apologize, but I saw this on a website called epilepsytalk and thought it interesting. It discusses how gut microbes create and regulate neurochemicals and neurotransmitters. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013…ce=mostemailed https://epilepsytalk.com/2013/11/24/p…d-for-thought/ […]


    Pingback by [Info] Probiotics and the Brain - Epilepsy Forum — December 8, 2013 @ 11:38 PM

  5. I second that!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — December 9, 2013 @ 8:30 AM

  6. There’s very little doubt that the gut health can aide in controlling seizures. Our son was having seizures regularly, we discontinued his laxative(miralax) and started a probiotic, colostrum and glutathione. He’s been seizure free for almost seven(7) months:)
    Not to mention his disposition has come back around and he’s thriving in school once again.
    We’re about to begin a product called restore; Dr.Bush has talked at many autism conferences about leaky gut. If these chemicals from our food supply are crossing the blood brain barrier we’re opening the door to a litany of health issues. In our sons case, seizures and anxiety.


    Comment by Mike Koehler — November 24, 2015 @ 9:42 AM

  7. Dear Mike,

    I agree with you that probiotics can go a long way in helping both mind and body.

    And I congratulate your son.

    I went to your link and saw no reference to “Restore.”

    Is there another link I should be looking at?


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 24, 2015 @ 10:03 AM

  8. Are yall saying that all yorgurt make you have seizures or just sum? Please help


    Comment by Cathy — January 4, 2016 @ 1:18 PM

  9. Just the opposite:

    In an early study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed probiotics (through yogurt) showed improvement in “brain power”.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 4, 2016 @ 2:43 PM

    • Any fermented food will provide “good bacteria” while hopefully reducing the quantity of seizures. Edgar Cayce talked about enteric nervous system(ens) health and temporal lobe epilepsy. The more reading I do, it appears there’s clearly a gut/brain connection; I’m glad to see there’s more and more research being done in this area. Take care of the gut and your brain will follow suit. Consider a cup of bone broth daily, some kefir or any fermented foods. Take a close look at your diet and any other medications you may be taking. Laxative abuse can destroy your gut; there are studies showing colonoscopy preps using peg 3350(golytely, miralax – to name a few) have an adverse effect on the gut flora.


      Comment by Mike Koehler — January 4, 2016 @ 3:37 PM

  10. Mike, thanks for the additional info. Very instructive and helpful.

    Especially the cup of bone broth daily, kefir or any fermented foods.

    You rock! 🙂


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 4, 2016 @ 5:28 PM

  11. been taking probiotics for past 2 yrs , the dr said its the best OTC they have .. good for stomach issues .. , i get Greek yogurt , either vanilla , or honey .. Kefir , only blueberry ..


    Comment by Cathy Flowers — February 12, 2016 @ 10:26 PM

    • Consider changing your probiotics every so often; a diverse microbiome is helpful. Hopefully your getting enough “good bacteria” through your diet. If so, the probiotics may not be necessary. Again, diversity is essential.


      Comment by Mike Koehler — February 13, 2016 @ 9:29 PM

  12. Good for you, Cathy.

    It’s great for the good bacteria and banishing the “bad” guys!

    You might want to try probiotic supplements, too.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 13, 2016 @ 11:24 AM

  13. Do you have the information on what foods to not eat if you have Epilepsy? I know some of them are raisions, bread, mashed potatoes and bananas. I can’t remember any other ones. I think pasta was one also.


    Comment by Tammy Wescott — April 5, 2016 @ 11:31 AM

  14. You’re ahead of me!

    But on a positive note, you might find this link helpful:

    Epilepsy Fighting Foods



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 5, 2016 @ 12:04 PM

  15. I eat yogurt most days and haven’t noticed any effects on cognitive abilities or seizures. if it’s helping me any, I’d hate to thimk what I’d be like without it. (the m was intentional)

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Alan Bishop — April 5, 2016 @ 12:49 PM

    • As far as seizures, CBD oil can help. Therawfoodworld.com has different strengths that are organic/non GMO


      Comment by Misqty — March 10, 2018 @ 2:39 PM

  16. I’ve been eating yogurt for so long, I don’t know how I’d live without it.

    But, I also take Probiotic Supplements.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 5, 2016 @ 1:23 PM

  17. I love yogurt,I have yogurt bar,s they taste like yopait light yogurt.


    Comment by michele metzger — May 28, 2016 @ 9:13 PM

  18. Excellent! Try to see on the label if it advertises “probiotic”. A lot of yogurts are especially aware of this importance in their formulas and marketing these days.

    Also, avoid the “light yogurts”, or read the labels carefully to avoid artificial sweeteners like Splenda.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 28, 2016 @ 10:32 PM

  19. If the second group was eating a yogurt like product with no probiotics, and showed signs of improved cognition, how do you conclude that probiotics help?


    Comment by Elissa — February 24, 2017 @ 10:58 AM

    • It’s in the type and quality of the probiotics.

      Yogurt is just the tip of the iceberg in helping.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 24, 2017 @ 11:35 AM

      • Sure, but the second and third group didn’t consume probiotics. The first and second group showed signs of improvement. So it seems this study only proved placebo effect. Am I missing something?


        Comment by Elissa — February 24, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

  20. No Elissa. It was a small test to support the theory of an interaction between a probiotic and the brain in humans.

    The scientist was pursuing his point with the three tests, to prove the efficacy of probiotics.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 24, 2017 @ 11:46 AM

    • If groups 2 and 3 showed a decrease or no change in cognition then the study would show a link between probiotics and the brain. Since the second group thought they were ingesting probiotics but weren’t, it just shows a relationship between the brain and the brain. Sorry I am argumentative, but debate leads to better understanding and that’s all I’m trying to achieve for myself. I assumed I missed something, like maybe the ingested yogurt-like product acted as a prebiotic for any preexisting gut flora. Thank you for the replies, I think probiotics do affect the vagus nerve but I don’t think this study illustrated that theory.


      Comment by Elissa — February 24, 2017 @ 11:59 AM

  21. https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2016/03/01/10-best-probiotics-for-depression-anxiety-gut-brain-axis-modification/

    And since anxiety can be a trigger for seizures, good gut health, adequate magnesium levels (I like magnesium calm before bed), gaba, glutathione, cbd oil, and yoga (or other physical/emotional stress relieving activities) can be beneficial.


    Comment by Misqty — March 10, 2018 @ 2:44 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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