Probiotics, the healthy bacteria in yogurt and certain fermented
foods, may be mind-altering microbes that could be used to help treat
depression and anxiety, according to cutting-edge new research.
A new “proof of concept” study using functional MRI offers
the first evidence that bacteria consumed in food can affect human brain
researchers report. The study found that women who eat probiotic yogurt
regularly had altered activity in brain regions that regulate emotions and
internal body sensations.
For example, during an emotional reactivity test involving
viewing pictures of angry or frightened faces, the women who had consumed
probiotics twice a day for a month showed decreased activity in these regions.
This is an indication of reduced anxiety, according to neuropsychiatrist Daniel
Amen, MD, a brain imaging specialist who was not involved in the research.
Conversely, women who didn’t consume probiotics had stable
or increased activity in these regions during the emotional reactivity test.
The study, which included 36 women, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology.
findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the
way our brain responds to the environment,” Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, associate
professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and lead author
of the study, said in a statement.
“When we consider
the implications of this work, the old sayings 'you are what you eat' and 'gut
feelings' take on new meaning,” added Dr. Tillsch.
A psychology researcher at University of Canterbury in New
Zealand is so enthusiastic about the potential of probiotics to improve mood
that she has launched a new study in which 80 patients with depression will
receive probiotic supplements for four months.
“I hope my study will find that treatment with probiotics changes
levels of certain substances in the blood and brain, essentially making people
happier,” researcher Amy Romijn told
“We urgently need a new approach to
depression, because current therapies don’t have a very good success rate,”
says Dr. Amen, who is also the author of Unleash
the Power of the Female Brain: Supercharging
Yours for Better Health, Energy, Mood, Focus, and Sex. “When you combined published and unpublished
studies of antidepressants, the treatments we have today are no better than they
were 50 years ago.”