Did you know that beneficial ‘probiotic’ bacteria in yogurt and other food foods keep more than your tummy happy?
A recent UCLA study shows that women who regularly ate yogurt had altered brain function and improved mood, likely because probiotics in their yogurt modified the bacterial environment in their gut.
In other words, when your gut is happy - so is your brain.
Researchers have known for a while now that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why you sometimes get a tummy upset when you’re really stressed. But this study shows that signals travel from the gut to the brain as well.
36 women between the ages of 18-55 years participated in this study. They were divided into three groups - one group ate a yogurt containing several probiotics twice a day for four weeks, while another group consumed a dairy product that looked and tasted like the yogurt but contained no probiotics - and a third group ate no yogurt at all.
All the study subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after the four-week study on two occasions. First, their brains were scanned when they were doing nothing.
Next, their brains were scanned while they looked at pictures of people with frightened expressions - and matched them to other faces with the same emotions, a test known as emotion-recognition test, which measures how different brain regions respond to visual stimuli.
Women who consumed probiotic yogurt showed lowered activity in the insula - a brain region that is responsible for gut sensations - and in the somatosensory cortex, another brain region responsible for emotional reactivity tasks.
This study shows that probiotics change the way our brain works and how it responds emotionally to the environment.
Other studies have shown that what we eat alters the composition of gut bacteria. For example, people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have different gut bacteria than those who eat a diet high in fat and carbs. Clearly, our diet affects not only our metabolism, but also how our brain works.
So - do antibiotics affect the brain?
We typically take antibiotics routinely for various infections, which have been shown to eliminate certain types of gut bacteria - so they can certainly influence our brain function as well.
Also, can gut bacteria be used in the future to treat brain-related diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and autism?
Only time will tell.
Do you currently take a probiotic supplement?
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