Probiotics: The Gut-Brain Connection

By Madhavi Gupta, M.D.

 

In this article:

The Science Behind the Gut-Brain Connection
The Benefits of Probiotics 
Probiotics for Brain Health
Probiotics for Better Mood
Probiotics and Pregnancy

 

Do you trust your gut? Have you been told you have good gut instincts? How about a gut feeling? As common as these expressions are, the time has come to think about these phrases more literally. 

A growing body of research continues to show the importance of a healthy gut, even calling your gut a “second brain.”

The power of the gut-brain connection is so strong that the two “brains” essentially talk to each other. The two signal to each other through multiple neuro and endocrine signal mechanisms. Evidence shows that changes to the health of the microbiome in the gut affects the health of the brain.

 Probiotics: The Gut-Brain Connection, illustration of gut and brain, What is your gut?


What is your gut?

When we talk about the gut, we’re talking about the gastroenteric system that runs from your mouth to your anus. Within this long tube is your esophagus, stomach, small intestines and large intestines. Within the intestines lies a complex ecosystem called the microbiome. Your intestinal microbiome is a collection of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses that live in your gut. This microbiome does an enormous amount of work to keep you healthy. Among the many things your microbiome does are manufacturing vitamins (vitamin D and vitamin K), detoxifying environmental toxins, making neurotransmitters, and helping our digestion and immune systems.

This vast gut ecosystem includes over 100 trillion bacteria! That’s about 10 times the number of cells in your body. That makes you about 90% bacteria and 10% human. The gut microbiome has a profound effect on your immune system. It’s estimated that the digestive system contains over 70% of your immunity. 

 

How does a healthy gut help you?

Two of the most prominent types of friendly bacteria are those belonging to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups. One of the primary functions of friendly bacteria is to produce anti-inflammatory cytokines and down-regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha and IL-6. Pro-inflammatory chemicals can cause stress, negative immune responses, inflammation, and more. They can also lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps protect nerve cells.

 

The Benefits of Probiotics 

Building and maintaining the proper amount of beneficial bacteria (e.g., probiotics) is crucial for a number of reasons. Once in the gut, probiotics are free to colonize and spread their health-boosting functions, which include:

    1. Helping to make serotonin
    2. Helping to promote better digestion
    3. Supporting a healthy gut-brain connection
    4. Supporting healthy regularity
    5. Supporting immunity

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that oral administration of Lactobacillus plantarum daily for 6 weeks significantly decreased both markers of oxidative stress (37% reduction) and inflammation (42% decrease) in healthy men and women. 

 

Probiotics for Brain Health

The growing research indicates more critical connections between gut and brain. Gut microbes communicate to the central nervous system through at least three parallel and interacting channels involving nervous, endocrine, and immune signaling mechanisms (1). But more studies are warranted to understand the connection better.

 

Probiotics for Better Mood

The “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin is also made in the gut. Many medications, including antibiotics, can negatively alter your gut microbiome. Certain antivirals, antipsychotics, and chemotherapy drugs also have “antibiotic-like” side effects according to new research published in Nature (2). It’s encouraging to know that positive change can be affected by adopting a diet that repopulates your gut with “good” bacteria and probiotic supplements that can help create a healthier gut.

 

Probiotic-Rich Foods

With the significance of the gut-brain axis in brain health and performance, it’s a very good idea to consume 1- 2 servings of fermented foods daily. Fermented foods contain live bacteria or active cultures, which contribute a diverse array of microorganisms to the existing gut microbiota and thus have the potential to affect health.   

Some traditionally fermented options are:

    • Dairy with live, active cultures (e.g., yogurt, kefir)

    • Fermented vegetables (e.g., pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi)

    • Tempeh, miso, soy sauce

    • Kombucha tea

     Probiotic-Rich Foods, yogurt and fermented vegetables, Are Fermented Foods the Same As Probiotics?
     

    Are Fermented Foods the Same As Probiotics?


    It’s a common misconception that the active cultures in fermented foods are the same thing as probiotics. The active cultures are there to perform the fermentation (i.e., convert milk into yogurt or cheese, or cabbage into sauerkraut).

    According to Robert Hutkins, Professor of Food Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (USA), “These cultures do not necessarily have any probiotic functions. By definition, probiotics must ‘confer a health benefit’. That means the probiotic must have been characterized and have clinical evidence of a health benefit. Cultures are not probiotic unless they have met this requirement.”

     

    Probiotic Supplements 

    Probiotic supplements are particularly beneficial, especially if they are in a delayed-release capsule. The delayed-release capsule allows the probiotic bacteria to bypass the stomach, where bacteria can be killed in the harsh stomach acid. The capsule withstands the acid and travels to the small intestines, where the bacteria are released and can do their important work.

     

    Is it okay to take probiotics every day?

    Yes, most people benefit from adding probiotics to their daily routine. Because our daily habits affect our digestive system, it’s important to keep up with healthy maintenance for optimum balance. Best Nest Probiotics are a highly-concentrated probiotic supplement for men and women containing 50 billion+ organisms per capsule. Their convenient once-daily formula is easy to remember. 

     

    Probiotics for Women 

    Research points to Lactobacillus acidophilus (3), Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus plantarum supporting vaginal health (4,5) and are probiotic strains included in Highly Cultured Women’s Probiotics and MamaBird® Probiotics. If you are seeking out probiotics formulated for women’s health, we designed Highly Cultured™ Women’s Probiotics as a highly-concentrated probiotics supplement containing 50 billion+ organisms.

      

    Probiotics and Pregnancy

    With the growing research showing a connection between healthy gut bacteria and a positive effect on stress, the immune system, hormones, energy levels, and digestive health, it’s clear that maintaining positive gut health during pregnancy is important. There is also emerging research showing that probiotics taken during pregnancy and breast-feeding may confer immune benefits to the baby.  

    Mama Bird Probiotics is crafted for pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum mothers to provide gut and brain support for you and your baby. The convenient, vegan, once-daily formula also promotes healthy blood glucose levels during pregnancy.

    Paying attention to your gut means a lot more than it used to. Now the science shows just how critical that gut feeling really is.




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