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Research shows that the gut and the brain are connected, a partnership called the gut-brain axis. In this axis, information is constantly interpreted and transmitted between the gut microbiome, the gastro-intestinal tract and The Central nervous system through an information highway called the vagus nerve. The gut intestinal microbiome plays a crucial role in this bidirectional communication.
In fact, the gut has been called the “ second brain “ because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, like serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid, all of which play a key role in regulating mood.
Use of probiotics to regulate mood
In recent years, it’s been found that the gut brain axis pathway seems to be altered in many psychiatric disorders. Conversely, the rates of depression and anxiety are disproportionally high in patients with functional gut disorders like irritative bowel syndrome. Hence, it has been hypothesised that modifying the microbial environment by means of probiotics, for instance, may help to improve mood and cognitive functions.
Research has also shown that taking probiotics may improve depressive symptoms, anxiety and even sleep quality.
A small 2013 study reported in the gastroenterology journal found that women who ate yogurt with a mix of probiotics twice a day for 4 weeks were calmer when exposed to images of angry and frightened faces when compared with a control group.
A recent trial showed reduced cognitive reactivity to sad mood after a 4-week intervention with probiotics supplementation. A Japanese trial published in 2017 reported an improvement in sleep quality in exam-stressed students after 11 weeks of probiotics consumption. There are currently a few ongoing trials using predominantly Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus species to treat depression with promising results.
Main treatment of depression and mood disorders
- Psychotherapeutic treatments
- Anti-depressive medications
- Electroconvulsive therapy
However on top of the above mainstream traditional treatments, perhaps probiotics could be considered also as an add-on treatment? Food for thought.
By : Dr Chen Yiming
Family Physician, MBBS (Singapore), GDFM (NUS), GDFP Dermatology (NUS)