Probiotics may alter brain activity in healthy people

Gut feelings

I think I must spend half my career saying “I told you so.” And this is another one of those moments.

That’s right. Another instance where complementary medicine has been so far ahead for so many years that it almost counts as malpractice for all the conventional doctors who’ve been out of the loop.

According to the latest “breaking” news story, it appears that probiotics may alter brain activity in healthy people.

This bit of “news” doesn’t come as a shock to me. And probably doesn’t to you, either.

But apparently it’s a headline-worthy discovery. So let me tell you about this study so you can join me in the chorus of “I told you so,” too.

The researchers looked at 36 healthy women with no known GI or psychiatric issues. They were split into three different groups.

Twice a day for four weeks, one group ate a serving of yogurt, containing five different live probiotic strains. The second group ate a serving of plain yogurt. And the third group received nothing.

All the women received MRIs before and after their respective interventions in order to assess brain activity and response to emotional attention tasks.

Results found that eating probiotic yogurt influenced activity in regions of the brain in charge of emotion and sensation processing. Which, of course, indicates that gut bacteria may have a larger bearing on your mood than you realized.

At the end of the day, there’s little question that a daily dose of probiotics does a lot more than keep you regular.

That said, let me go on the record and say that I’m not the biggest fan of yogurt. It’s packed with sugar and there are better ways to get more good bacteria into your gut.

Seeing as how Danone sponsored this study, though, I don’t think anyone should be surprised at the delivery system the researchers chose.

That’s not to say that their results warrant any undue skepticism. If anything, I’m surprised that we’re only talking about this topic now.

While this may be the first proof we have of the gut-mind connection, this link has been suspected for as long as I’ve been practicing medicine. (Which, at this point, is getting too long to admit.)

Up to now, most of the research on probiotics has focused on their role in gut health. But our understanding of the gut’s role in a number of biological processes continues to expand. (Most notably in areas like weight control and allergy and immune response–just to name a couple.)

There are just so many bacteria in our body that they must be doing something. And it’s high time we figured out exactly what they do–because probiotics can be a pretty inexpensive way of healing ourselves.

On the flip side, we also have to learn to identify what makes our bacteria imbalanced in the first place. There are so many factors–from a poor diet to stress to pharmaceuticals–that can make it hard for these bacteria to do the work they’re supposed to do.

But who knows how big of an impact even the smallest changes can make on your gut’s environment? Good health starts with a healthy digestive tract. And we all have to start somewhere.

For my part, I always recommend a product similar to the one used in this study. It’s a blend of pre- and probiotics that contains 10 different strains of live bacteria. (The one in this study only had five.)

It’s called Dr. Ohirra’s. And in my opinion, there’s no better probiotic on the market.

“Consumption of Fermented Milk Product with Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity.” Gastroenterology. 2013 Mar 5. pii: S0016-5085(13)00292-8. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.02.043. [Epub ahead of print]