There’s a lot of talk at the moment about our gut health and for good reason.
If you’ve been scrolling through any form of social media – maybe you’ve even caught a few of those adverts about bacteria friendly yogurts – then you’ve probably heard of the benefits that a healthy gut can have on the body’s physical health.
New evidence however suggests you have an extra reason to value the bacteria living in your microbiome: if they’re happy, so are you! This is what scientists term as the gut-brain axis. Studies show that a healthy gut microbiome is fundamental in linking the emotional centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions - think of a moment when you’ve had butterflies and felt excited or nervous, that’s the gut-brain axis in action.
With these new discoveries, scientists have developed an equally apt term for these mentally beneficial gut bacteria called psychobiotics. Psychobiotics refer to bacteria that positively influence the gut-brain axis by balancing out the microorganisms within the gut-microbiome. But just what are psychobiotics? How do psychobiotics work? Could they be used in the future to treat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety by targeting gut health?
What are psychobiotics?
The term ‘psychobiotics’ doesn’t refer to any specific bacterial discovery or naturalistic fallacy. Instead, it is an all-encompassing term relating to any probiotic or prebiotic microorganism that reacts with the bodies existing gut bacteria to confer mental health benefits through the gut-brain axis. When ingested in an optimal and individually tailored quantity, psychobiotics improve the body’s ability to communicate between the gut and the brain and subsequently offer a wide range of benefits relating to psychological wellbeing.
While the idea of using these psychobiotics to impact the gut microbiome and improve mental health might seem silly, the gut is actually responsible for a lot of brain chemical processes. It houses an estimated 70% of our brains eventual immune cells, in addition to around 95% of our total serotonin – the feel-good chemical in the brain. As shown in controlled studies, a healthy gut actually increases the amount of this chemical being communicated to the brain.
Not every pre and probiotic has the same impact on the gut microbiome however, meaning that not all are classed as a psychobiotics. It’s entirely dependent on the bacterial benefits towards an individual’s mental health. Psychobiotic bacteria also come in all shapes and sizes and studies have shown that they confer different benefits relative to individual mental illnesses.
What can they treat?
While scientific research into the benefits of psychobiotics on the brain-gut axis is still very much in its infancy – at least when compared to more established mental wellness treatments – we already know so much about the microorganisms. This makes psychobiotics one of the most exciting and interesting medical wellness fields. While not a fully comprehensive list, here are a few key benefits of psychobiotics backed up by scientific studies:
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders with an estimated 1 in 6 impacted by the condition. Again, while the general understanding of depression is limited, researchers have begun to identify different neurotransmitters potentially responsible for the condition that are also produced by the gut microbe through different psychobiotics.
Our Innermost Digest Capsules for instance contain both probiotic macrospores and prebiotic acacia fibre. While the former improves absorption of nutrients and reduces inflammation, the latter builds a stronger and diverse microbiome. Essentially, they strengthen the gut-brain axis. Both of these psychobiotic examples have also been evidenced to reverse depression symptoms from those suffering from IBS.
Schizophrenia is also a complex and long-term mental health with surprisingly minimal comprehensive research. Like gut-based afflictions such as IBS, one consistent factor of schizophrenia is the influence of genetics upon the disease. This has led to further studies into role of the gut microbiome in schizophrenia, with it suggested that gastrointestinal inflammation plays a key role in the development of the disease due to the microbiome imbalance. This is something that psychobiotic examples like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli have been suggested to benefit through the production of GABA – this generates dopamine, the brains feel good chemical.
Anxiety disorders are complex and can be caused by numerous factors – both genetic and environmental. This has led to many studies attempting to determine the benefits that psychobiotics can have for anxiety. While much research is still emerging, current evidence suggests that the vague nerve, one of the key communication processes between the brain and intestines can offer relief from the flight or fight struggles of an anxiety attack when triggered.
How to implement psychobiotics into your daily life
It’s true that the prospect of adding another caveat to your dietary intake can seem daunting, we have prepared a few simple and easy tricks below to make going about it a breeze.
One tried and true method is to get the mental wealth good stuff into your day is to slowly add psychobiotic foods into your daily diet until it becomes second nature routine. Foods like Yogurt and drinks like Kefir are a particularly good choice as they’re perfect for any time of day. For anyone feeling like something a little different, international dishes like Sauerkraut in Germany and Tempeh in Japan are full to the brim with the healthy gut-brain bacterium. Consuming these psychobiotic foods also has the benefit of providing a whole host of other beneficial nutrients as well as just being delicious to boot.
If you’re finding that you don’t have time to search for the more nuanced probiotic foods, you might find it beneficial to try probiotic supplements like the Innermost digest capsules (wink wink) as these provide a much greater concentration of the good stuff when compared to food intake.
Like anything, we would always recommend that individuals get a mix of both into daily life to create the perfect balance of convenience, nutrient uptake, and psychobiotic benefit.
Psychobiotics going forward
While our understanding of the gut-brain axis and psychobiotics is still very much in its infancy, our scientific understanding of gut health has come along way. From what was before seen as a taboo talking point, many people – us included – now feel confident to add to the discussion and begin to make changes to diet, lifestyle, and sleep, with the aim of improving wellbeing by improving gut health.
Thanks to an increasing number of scientific studies, we can take away that the gut and mind are deeply connected and can be optimised through psychobiotics to improve mental wellbeing.
With all this said however mental health conditions are highly complex with a wide range of medications and therapies used as treatments. As such, it’s important to take psychobiotic supplements in conjunction with these other therapies to get the best outcome possible.
Here at Innermost, we are at the forefront of science led solutions to individual wellness. That’s why we offer only the best and means evaluated pro and prebiotic supplements to help improve gut-brain health and communication. Not sure where to start? Contact our team at Innermost today for individually tailored from our expert consultation.