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!
[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