There is emerging research into the role of probiotics—aka “good bacteria”—to help mood disorders. Given the connection between our brain and our gut microbiome, the microorganisms within probiotics can help heal the inflammation that causes harm to our health, including brain behavior and moods.
Science has discovered our brains do not act independently. Research has exposed a strong link between the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract, called the “gut-brain axis” (GBA). The GBA allows for communication between the endocrine, immune, and autonomic nervous systems in our bodies. New research shows that our gut microbiome, which hosts trillions of microorganisms, plays an important role in influencing brain development, behavior, and mood in humans.
Inflammation Is Key
There has been growing evidence that inflammation, which leads to changes in the microbiome of the gut, is related to mood disorders. In the case of bipolar and the GBA, studies show that inflammation, or overstimulation of the body’s immune system, is a contributing factor. Research is showing that probiotics produce an anti-inflammatory effect that may help improve a number of health conditions, including brain health.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics, found in foods or supplements, are live yeasts and microorganisms intended to improve the “good bacteria” (normal microflora) in the body. In food, probiotics can be found in yogurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar, and kimchi. Common probiotics used in research include Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus strains. While the supplement form is generally well tolerated, it should be avoided by immunocompromised individuals and those who are at high risk for infection.
Mania and Gut Inflammation
In a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine randomized study with patients discharged from hospital for mania, it found that, on average, hospital readmission was 74 percent lower with patients taking the probiotic supplement, compared to those taking a placebo. Researchers point out this study does not tell us if dysfunction of intestinal microbiome is the cause of bipolar or specifically mania, only that gut inflammation seems to exacerbate bipolar symptoms.
Prebiotics are an indigestible form of fiber found in some fruits (e.g., bananas), and vegetables (e.g., asparagus) and resistant starches (e.g., legumes). They act as a food source for the friendly bacteria in the gut. Early research as to some benefits of prebiotics include gut health and immunity, plus the promotion of bone health, fat metabolism, regular insulin sensitivity, and sleep. Researchers are also seeing positive mental health benefits to prebiotics.
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