Modulating your gut flora has far-reaching benefits for your emotional and cognitive health says a study published by Trends in Neuroscience.  This study uses the term psychobiotics to describe how prebiotics and probiotics affect the brain.  The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord.  It connects with the gut via the enteric nervous system (ENS).  Gut microbes produce metabolites that affect both organs negatively if there is dysbiosis or an imbalance in bacteria.

Probiotics Support Neurotransmitters & Reduce Inflammation

In animal studies, specific probiotic strains were used to treat anxiety and depression.  Findings included an improved stress response, an increase in GABA (the calming neurotransmitter), more tryptophan (the precursor to seratonin) and less inflammatory cytokines.

Inflammation is known to be part of the pathogenesis of most depression.  These cytokines travel along the gut-brain axis and can cross the BBB (blood, brain barrier).  An increase in BBB permeability is associated with mental illness and alterations in neurotransmitters like serotonin. In human studies, specific probiotic strains have been used to decrease negative moods and improve the stress response within 30 days of use.

Prebiotics Reduce Stress & Support Emotional Regulation

Prebiotics like GOS (galactooligosaccharide) have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant effects.  When stress levels are too high we don’t function optimally.  By reducing the cortisol awakening response (CAR) we can soften the impact of chronic stress.  Hyper-vigilance is associated with depression and anxiety.  Increased prebiotic intake is showing to have an impact on this.

Defining Psychobiotics

“Psychobiotics were previously defined as live bacteria (probiotics) which, when ingested, confer mental health benefits through interactions with commensal gut bacteria. We expand this definition to encompass prebiotics, which enhance the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. We review probiotic and prebiotic effects on emotional, cognitive, systemic, and neural variables relevant to health and disease. We discuss gut–brain signalling mechanisms enabling psychobiotic effects…”  This quote is from a study published this year.

Prebiotics are available in foods like onions, artichokes and asparagus to name a few.  Find more information on the health benefits of both these and probiotics here. For periods of rebuilding I offer my patients GOS, beta-glucan, larch arabinogalactan and inulin.  When infections are present prebiotics can exacerbate symptoms.  In these cases there are other prebiotic fibres that can be used during treatment.

Functional Testing for the Gut-Brain Axis

Its important to see what is happening in the gut.  In Functional Medicine we say, “why guess when you can test?”.  Over and over I’m surprised by this medicine.  Just last week one of my patients thought there were two recurrent infections happening in his body.  It turned out it was just one thing that was causing all his symptoms and the lab work showed exactly what to treat.  He’s already feeling better! 

When mood is the predominant symptom I start with another test.  It is an overview of thewhich the gut, nutrient status, toxic exposure and neurotransmitters.   For mental health this test allows us to target treatment.  I’ve used it to successfully support a suicidal patient and another with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from a brain injury.  This is an excellent starting place if you are ready to feel more alive and well.  For a limited time your initial 15 minute consult is free and will help us decide the best place to begin.  Book in now