Yesterday I read an article in Forbes summarizing some of the recent research on the gut bacteria/brain link, entitled, “Science Is Showing How Gut Bacteria Affect the Brain, But Don’t Bother Taking Probiotics Yet.”[i]
“Scientific research is nearing a consensus that bacteria in our digestive systems affect our brains. The microbiome in our guts, populated by billions of bacteria, appears to play a significant role not only in our digestive health, but also our mental health.” The article summarizes the research I wrote about last week, the gut-brain communication via the hormone, cortisol. It also summarizes recent work into the relationship of the gut bacteria to anxiety and depression. (The research showed that gut bacteria influence a specific brain region and that early-life exposure to certain bacteria may predispose people to anxiety and depression later on.)
And then it goes on to say that we don’t yet know how taking probiotics may ultimately work – or even if they will.
The article correctly points out – as I have written about before in this blog – that bacteria may act differently (good or bad) depending on their environment. The second question is, what bacteria ingested orally actually make it to the intestines through the stomach acid? (We know that lactobacillus and bifidobacteria do which is why these feature in commercial probiotics.) Finally, even if a way were invented (a special protective pill let’s say) of protecting the bacteria on their way to the intestines, no one yet knows exactly what they’d do once they’d arrive.
On the other hand…
There is plenty of research showing that probiotics’ positive effects. In fact, my inspiration for today’s post came in the form of a little article in the Medical News Bulletin[ii] which described a recent double-blind, randomized, cross-over study (the gold standard of research) that just appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition. 14 healthy individuals received either yogurt or acidified milk and were fed pro-inflammatory, high fat meals. Both their inflammatory response and their gut flora were assessed. Both the probiotic yogurt and acidified milk led to “…significantly reduced post high-fat meal inflammation” and both increased good, anti-inflammatory gut species. The authors, in fact, conclude that, “…due to the anti-inflammatory properties of probiotics, these dietary interventions may be useful for people at risk of chronic inflammation.”
So once again, we face that same dilemma. Do we take something that can’t hurt and could help, even if we don’t yet fully know the upside? Not to sound like a broken record (well – actually, yes…to sound exactly like a broken record), but it seems to me it’s the better option.
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