Are probiotics ready for practice? That is the question many scientists are asking in the search for treatments for depression. Adequately alleviating symptoms of depression or anxiety is not always as simple as taking a pill and talking to a therapist. Many people aren’t receptive to medication, and so turn to alternative forms of treatment. Depression is largely caused by chemical imbalances in your body, and researchers have recently discovered that bacteria in the body may be to blame for some of these imbalances. Many doctors are conducting experiments of microbe-based treatments, or “psychobiotics”. Because probiotics are already beneficial to digestive health, new research suggests they might help mental health as well.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are living bacteria and yeasts that occur naturally in the body. Just as bad bacteria can make you sick, there is good bacteria that helps the body function properly. If you were ever prescribed antibiotics as a child, good bacteria was killed along with the bad. Because of this your parents may have given you yogurt, as it’s another source of healthy gut bacteria, and consuming it would help the body replenish good bacteria and heal. For many with digestive problems, increased probiotic intake can help regulate intestinal function and, possibly, brain function.
Probiotics and Mental Health
Over the past few decades, many researchers have posed theories surrounding the Mind-Gut connection, and many believe the bacteria in your gut can affect mental health. Research conducted by scientists worldwide has discovered evidence to suggest feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression are affected by the microbiome in your gut.
Microbiome is the collective name of the bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic organisms that live within the body. It is estimated the average human body contains around 100 trillion microorganisms, which collectively take up 1 kilogram of weight in the gut. 1 Kilogram is around the weight of the human brain.
In a healthy person, these microbes absorb energy from food, ensure disease immunity, and, many believe, help regulate brain function. Bacteria in the body are known to produce the same chemicals that doctors use to treat depression, and so they may play a role in maintaining this emotional balance.
In people with major depressive illnesses, doctors have recorded decreases in microbe diversity within the microbiome. Alterations in the intestinal microbiota negatively impact the intestinal-brain axis at several levels, including hyperactivation of the HPA axis, disruptions in neural networks and neurotransmitter levels, and excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines by the immune system.
Tests and Theories
Scientists further observed this phenomenon with experimentation. Since researchers are able to simulate human anxiety and depression symptoms in rats, they measured the chemical stress responses in depressed rats versus a control group. They found that depressed rats introduced to probiotics saw a decrease in stress hormone levels.
The field of psychobiotics is still new, and there is not yet a universal explanation of this phenomenon in humans. Some believe the vagus nerve, which runs complex connections from the brain to the neck, chest, and abdomen, is a pathway for microbes to transfer chemical imbalances to the brain. Another theory is that microbes produce fatty acids which, in turn, travel through the blood or vagus nerve to the brain. Still, others believe tryptophan, the main component of serotonin formed in the gut, is a key regulator in the process. While there are a few universally acknowledged truths about gut health, most doctors agree that a person’s age, diet, and amount of exercise can all have an effect on gut health.
Scientists are still searching for a consistent link of casualty between the digestive system’s effect on the brain. However, there is no denying that the food we eat has an effect on all parts of the body. Poor diet has already been linked to depression, and through proper nutrition and probiotics, there is a good chance to decrease the strain of anxiety and depression on the body.
Foods with Probiotics
Including more high probiotic foods in your diet is a great way to take control of your health overall. The good news is you don’t need to only rely upon a yogurt-based diet to increase your probiotic levels. While supplements are a great option, many everyday foods contain healthy bacteria. This list includes:
- Soft cheeses
- Sourdough Bread
Many of these ingredients are either longtime food staples or have been brought into the popular consciousness over the last few years.
There are also plenty of foods containing prebiotics, which feed the existing good bacteria in your system and make them stronger. Asparagus, Banana, oatmeal, honey, red wine, and legumes can all fuel the bacteria already in your system.
Increased consumption of probiotics can be a fun way to refine your palate while also improving gut and, potentially, mental health.
MidCity TMS for Depression Relief
Are probiotics ready for practice? Not quite yet. While there are many scientists working to prove the link between gut health and depression, it is not guaranteed. Looking toward the future, the microbiome might be a place to probe when developing new treatments for depression. While the science is working itself out, many will need more proven treatment options to alleviate depression. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a tested and proven method to treat depression symptoms in adults. We at Mid-City TMS are excited to see the proactive approach so many take with their mental health. Our clients experience relief from depression symptoms; call us today for a consultation.