Live Cultures, like our Intelligent Labs Live Cultures supplements, have been selling like hotcakes in recent years. These live microorganisms may be invisible to the naked eye, but you can feel their benefits throughout your whole body. That’s right – the benefits of live cultures aren’t limited to the digestive system; they also extend to the brain! In this blog post, we’ll introduce psychobiotics and how they connect the brain and gut together.
What are psychobiotics?
Psychobiotics are a class of live cultures that may provide mental health benefits. Psychobiotics produce neurotransmitters that nerve cells, a.k.a. neurons, use to “talk” to each other. Serotonin, dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine are neurotransmitters produced in the gut (1).
Several bacterial strains have been identified as psychobiotics, including (2, 3):
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus plantarum
All six psychobiotic strains are found in our Adult Live Cultures and Fibre. Each capsule contains 10 patented acid and bile-resistant strains plus 2 types of prebiotic fibers to nourish the live cultures. We also use active packaging technology and delayed-release capsules. These help ensure the live cultures reach your gut alive!
What is the gut microbiome and how does it affect your health?
The gut microbiome is home to trillions of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. As you can probably tell, psychobiotics belong to the “good” kind of bacteria.
The gut microbiome is absolutely essential to our existence. These microbes help digest food, boost our immune system, and even maintain our mental health (4)!
But this living ecosystem needs a balance between its good and bad “residents.” The alternative is undesirable, to say the least. Most of us have wrestled with the effects of gut imbalance at one time or another. Well-known symptoms range from mild digestive discomfort to severe intestinal infections.
How can microbes in the gut possibly affect mental health?
The gut microbiome influences how you think, behave, and react to stress (5). But how? Well, there’s this thing called the gut-brain axis.
As the name suggests, this axis connects the GI tract with the brain and central nervous system. This axis is the reason why the state or composition of your gut microbiota may directly affect your mental state! For example, gut dysbiosis may be behind anxiety, depression, or concentration issues (6).
Ever heard of “gut instincts”? Well, turns out that the gut-brain axis may also be responsible for this. It’s that unexplainable feeling where we’re absolutely sure about something but can’t explain why.
Interestingly, scientists have also discovered that most people with autism have some type of abnormality in the gut. These may be in the form of allergies, gluten sensitivity, digestive issues, etc. The culprit? A lower number of Bacteroides fragilis species in the gut (7).
To determine if increasing the population of B. fragilis can help improve symptoms, the researchers fed mice (with autism symptoms) with this particular strain. Surprisingly, it worked! The mice’s gut microbiome changed. And more importantly, improved their behavior, too (7).
And here’s the kicker – these microbes may even play a role in how our personalities develop. To test this theory, scientists used germ-free mice and transplanted bacteria from donor mice. Amazingly, the previously germ-free mice took on the personality of the donor mouse (8)!
How does the “second brain” fit into all this?
Wait, what? There’s a second brain?
We obviously only have one organ called “brain”. But for all intents and purposes, the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) actually also fits the bill. Enteric means “intestinal.” So, the ENS literally translates to “intestinal nervous system”.
The ENS is embedded in the lining of the gut. It stretches from the esophagus all the way to the rectum. It has a mesh-like system of hundreds of millions of neurons (9). This number might sound like a lot. But when compared to the big brain’s 86 billion neurons, it’s actually tiny!
The ENS may not be capable of thought just like the brain. But it is capable of functioning independently of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). As a result, the gut can automatically process, digest, and absorb our food without us needing to think about it.
What are the mental health benefits of psychobiotics?
The field of psychobiotics is relatively young, but the mental health benefits seen in (mostly) animal studies are very promising. Here are some of them:
Psychobiotics may help improve psychiatric disorder-related behaviours
Researchers analyzed 38 randomized controlled trials that studied various live culture strains’ effects on humans and animals (2). They found that live cultures helped improve behaviours, such as:
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
The majority of the studies used Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, including some strains found in our Adult Live Cultures and Fibre supplement!
Psychobiotics may help boost neurotransmitter production
Different neurotransmitters do different things, but they all have an effect on the body. For instance, serotonin stabilizes mood. Dopamine, on the other hand, helps you feel good when you achieve something. The gut plays a key role in their production – it produces up to 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine in there (10, 11)!
Psychobiotics may help improve mood and reduce depression
Scientists did a systematic review of five clinical trials that involved over 180 subjects and controls. They concluded that live cultures have a positive effect on major depression symptoms, especially in patients 60 years old and below. Apparently, however, they did not have the same effect on patients 65 and above (12).
So, what could be a good alternative for older folks then?
Well, psychobiotics aren’t the only thing that can help improve mood and relieve anxiety. Natural nootropics like our Seneca Nootropic Complex and Phosphatidylserine may also help! Research has shown that nootropics can also help improve mood, mental drive, and motivation.
Now, whether you intend to take psychobiotics or nootropics for their mental health benefits, we highly recommend you seek professional medical advice first.
A healthy gut microbiome is vital for brain and mental health. As you’ve learned in this blog post, they also help improve mood and alleviate depression and anxiety. More research is on the way, but the studies done so far have been very promising indeed!