Stressed? Depressed? Theres a Psychobiotic for That

Yesterday morning a story made its way through the British press about a probiotic, newly available commercially, which, in a 2016 clinical trial, successfully alleviated stress, increased feelings of happiness and boosted memory.  The probiotic, Zenflore, is being called the first commercially available “psychobiotic”:  that is, a probiotic specifically designed with “potential mental health benefit.”[i]

(To call it the first psychobiotic is reaching for it, in my opinion, by the way.  There are many probiotics on the market that have been shown to have a beneficial psychological effect.  For example, the Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota, found in the yogurt/kefir brand, Yakult, prevented stress-related cortisol increases and raised serotonin levels in stressed medical students, according to a 2016 study, and more than that: “…the rate of subjects experiencing common abdominal and cold symptoms and total number of days experiencing these physical symptoms per subject were significantly lower in the LcS group than in the placebo group during the pre-examination period.” [ii])

Still, the clinical study – although not a cross-over one – makes this news worth reporting.

The product contains a particular strain of Bifidobacterium – Bifidobacterium longum 1714 – and it apparently increases “…activity in the areas of the brain associated with emotions, learning and memory.”[iii]

At baseline, 22 healthy volunteers completed a cognitive assessment, and also had EEGs.  They were then subjected to a “cold pressor test” (which apparently causes some degree of pain) to measure baseline readings, and then after 4 weeks of taking either a placebo or the probiotic, the test was re-administered.  The rise in cortisol (from the stress) and anxiety levels were measured, and in the probiotic group, these were significantly lower.  More than that, daily stress was reported to be lowered.  The researchers assessed cognitive performance on “…tests assessing memory, sustained attention, social cognition and emotional processing.”  They also measured brain activity in various regions using EEG.

The results showed that this strain of probiotic “…can ameliorate both the physiological and psychological response to an acute stressor, as well as longer-term daily self-reported psychological stress, in health human adults.”  They also found a “subtle” improvement in visual-spatial memory, and the EEGs of the experimental group supported improved memory activity in the brain.

What amazes me is that the dose of probiotic is remarkably low – only 1 billion organisms.  I double checked and yes, 1 pill a day with that amount is all that is recommended and all that was used in the clinical study.

Currently, the product is only available through pharmacies located in limited European countries which must special order it.  In case any of you outside those countries are interested,  I took a look around to see if there are any options.  One of my favorite bloggers, Dr. Paul Whiteley, who writes “Questioning Answers” (which covers scientific research on autism), states in a 2016 post that covered this study, that VSL 3 also contains this particular strain of B. longum.[iv]  I cannot figure out where he got that information, but I trust him.  (He is a very highly regarded blogger.)  And over the years, as I have mentioned before, I have had tremendous success with VSL 3 in both the IBS/IBD and autism populations.  I personally take it daily.  Other companies, like Life Extension, make a Bifido Longum product but the strain is different and thus, I can’t be sure it would have the same effect.

If any of you in Europe do try Zenflore, I (and I am sure my readers) would love to hear from you about your results!

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[i] Allen, AP, Hutch, W, Borre, YE, Kennedy, PJ, Temko, A, Boylan, G, Murphy, E, Cryan, JF, Dinan, TG, Clarke, G. Bifidobacterium longum 1714 as a translational psychobiotic: modulation of stress, electrophysiology and neurocognition in healthy volunteers.  Translational Psychiatry. 2016: 6; e939.

[ii] Kato-Kataoka, A, et. al. Fermented milk containing Lacobacillus casei strain Shirota prevents the onset of physical symptoms in medical students udner academic examination stress.  Beneficial Microbes. 2016:7(2);153-6. doi: 10.3920/BM2015.0100

[ii] https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/lifestyle/probiotic-pill-could-reduce-stress-and-promote-a-sense-of-happiness-and-boost-brain-power/06/01/

[iv] https://questioning-answers.blogspot.com/2016/11/bifidobacterium-longum-1714-attenuates-stress.html

4 Comments on “Stressed? Depressed? Theres a Psychobiotic for That

  1. Hi! I read about VSL #3 a few months ago. I am post surgery and wanting to restore my microbiome. However, there are many comments that VSL #3 is no longer the same recipe as before. Please note these comments on amazon.
    Sincere, Natasha

    ———————————————

    Questionable quality. No returns allowed and most definitely contains milk.
    BySupport_Newcombieon December 20, 2018
    Verified Purchase
    Have not felt any benefit from taking them. VSL#3 no longer uses it original formula, as they are legally not allowed to. The original doctor/inventor left the company. I tasted the powder inside the capsules and it tastes exactly like dairy milk powder, despite ingredients not noting any dairy. No returns or refunds are allowed, and one can only suspect that the seller is aware of the the quality issues and is trying to make sure they dont bear the cost.

    BEWARE: VSL#3 RE-FORMULATED, CLAIMS RESULTS OF PROPRIETARY FORMULA
    Byfeminist momon December 12, 2018

    I bought this product to repair from uncontrolled diarrhea caused by reaction to antibiotic, only to learn it is a knock-off of the proprietary formula and that its claims are unsubstantiated. A recent US federal court decision found the makers of VSL#3 – which was reformulated in 2016, untested, and sold as the proprietary blend – to have falsely claimed this knock-off product was backed by the substantial research of the original proprietary blend! The actual formula, patented by a well-respected researcher, can only be bought under the brand name VISBIOME (in US). YES, it is sold by Amazon and – bonus – is LESS EXPENSIVE than this knock-off. Given my condition, I turned right around and bought the VISBIOME today.

    For the disbelieving, the following text is quoted from an article in BusinessWire dated Nov 26, 2018:
    “…VSL Pharmaceuticals had attempted to create a “knock-off” of De Simone’s [researcher’s] product, even though they never had access to the proprietary formula. They continued to call this knock-off by its original brand name, “VSL#3®”, a trademark owned by VSL Pharmaceuticals Inc., and continued to reference the extensive clinical research on the product proving the product was efficacious and safe, even though they never fully tested the copy product. During the trial, De Simone [the researcher] was able to prove that the defendants’ copy product was not the same as De Simone’s original invention and had never been tested in humans to ensure that it performs the same way as the original formula.”

  2. Hi Natasha. Thanks for this information! And you are right, re: the Business Wire article. I’m not sure what to make of it as research continues, using VSL3, in humans, and there doesn’t appear to be any FDA action in terms of revoking their medical food designation. I have looked at the Visbiome website, and it appears to be almost a mirror reflection of VSL#3s in that, they have the same selection of products, etc. I have never tried this one and would love to hear from people who have!

    • Thanks for your research and frequent posts. You do an excellent job. I read everything you send. I’m in a care-giving role, working full time, and dealing with my own critical health issues, so I don’t typically post comments I just happened to know the details on this one, and thought you would want to know as well. In my opinion, you are a “star” researcher.

  3. Thank you so much, Natasha! I really appreciate you taking the time to point this out, write to me…and of course, the lovely compliment. It means more than I can say.

    I’ve been thinking about your post. Seriously contemplating giving the Visbiome a try to see if I find a difference. I’ll look into it when my bottles of VSL are nearly done. Stay tuned on that!

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