We’ve all been there: It’s the day of a big meeting and you wake up in the morning feeling nauseous. You hear upsetting news and immediately lose your appetite and get a stomach ache. Or you’re in the midst of an anxious time and get diarrhea on top of everything else. But, how does this happen?
Your Gut Talks to Your Brain
The gut and the brain stand in constant communication with one another. The brain sends signals to your intestines. For example, just thinking about eating can trigger the brain to send signals to the stomach and intestines telling them to secrete certain digestive enzymes.
The gut is home to the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), which many call the second brain, is a network of neurons embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system. The ENS directly communicates with the brain by sending messenger signals and hormones back and forth.
Your ENS communicates with the brain via messenger signals. Interestingly, your gut bacteria play an active part in this communication with your brain, via neurological signals, hormones and immune messenger signals. Therefore, the composition of your gut bacteria can influence the messages communicated to the brain.
How Gut Microbiota Support Your ENS
Your gut bacteria play a critical role in maintaining gut health and with this also proper ENS function. In addition, the world of good bacteria in your gut (i.e., your gut microbiome) helps produce and metabolize many important messenger signals that are sent to the brain via your bloodstream. This includes serotonin and dopamine, two critical hormones linked to emotions and mood.
Your microbiome also protects your body from harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses. External factors such as stress, an overly processed diet and certain medications can disrupt the healthy balance in your gut microbiome.
This creates the opportunity for harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses to settle in, leading to inflammation in your gut. We feel this inflammation, first and foremost, through digestive discomfort, including diarrhea, stomach ache and nausea.
How Do Probiotics Help the Brain?
The term “probiotics” refers to the good bacteria that naturally occur in the human intestine. Probiotic supplements have been developed because many of us need additional probiotic support to keep our gut microbiome healthy, which is tough given the many external stressors in modern day life. Probiotics can be very beneficial in maintaining and restoring a healthy gut microbiome and supporting the brain.
In recent years, clinical research has increasingly focused on their role in improving psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Your good gut bacteria support many critical functions in your body, many of which are directly or indirectly linked to your brain.
Nutrient absorption: your gut bacteria play a central role in maintaining a healthy small and large intestine so that nutrients can be filtered out of your food and absorbed into your bloodstream as effectively as possible. Many of these nutrients are critical for proper brain function.
Hormone and neurotransmitter production: Your gut bacteria produce hormones including serotonin and neurotransmitters including dopamine, which are directly linked to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. In fact, 90% of serotonin, your happiness hormone, is manufactured in the gut.
Inflammation: If the healthy balance of your gut bacteria is disrupted, this can lead to inflammation in your gut. This inflammation, in turn, can damage the gut wall and allow harmful, foreign substances to enter your bloodstream. If those toxins reach the brain, neuroinflammation develops. Research is emerging that links the presence of neuroinflammation to conditions such as migraines and depression.
Pathogen inhibition: Some pathogens such as the yeast Candida Albicans directly send signals to the brain to induce sugar cravings. Yes, the very common yeast Candida Albicans can trick your brain into telling you to eat sugar all day long!
This benefits Candida as it thrives on sugar but can hurt you as Candida disrupts your digestion as well as cause brain fog and severe fatigue. A healthy, well-balanced gut microbiome helps keep potentially harmful bacteria and microorganisms in check. For example, the beneficial bacteria lactobacillus lactis and lactobacillus casei reduce the pH value in your intestines, which makes it a less hospitable environment for Candida Albicans.
Production of short-chain fatty acids: Your gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, which act as messengers to the brain and have anti-inflammatory properties. Only about 20% of your gut bacteria can produce these short-chain fatty acids, which is why a balanced and healthy gut microbiome is essential for gut and brain health.
How Gut Bacteria Impact Stress, Mood, and Anxiety
Gut bacteria produce many hormones and neurotransmitters that affect your mood. Changes in the composition of your gut bacteria can affect how these neurotransmitters are produced and sent to the brain. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine are associated with anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, the gut is especially sensitive to stress and many good bacteria in the gut die off during stressful times. This causes inflammation in the gut, which leads to the tight junctions in the gut barrier breaking and resulting in leaky gut. Pathogens can now travel into the bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout the body, which can manifest in digestive discomfort, as well as muscle pain, brain fog, weaker immunity, and changes in mood including anxiety symptoms.
Gut bacteria also influence how brain chemicals are metabolized and how available they are in the bloodstream. If we lack the gut bacteria that help metabolize those hormones and neurotransmitters that influence mood, then we are more prone to anxiety and mood disorders.
What Are the Benefits of Psychobiotics?
The term “psychobiotics” refers to the probiotic bacteria that have been shown in clinical studies to impact brain function. Literature on this topic highlights various probiotic strains such as bifidobacterium longum, lactobacillus acidophilus, and lactobacillus helveticus.
To date, little research has focused on testing the final composition of strains used in a product. This is very important, as probiotic strains interact with each other and may generate different outcomes when used alone versus in teams.
At OMNi-BiOTiC®, we’ve studied OMNi-BiOTiC® STRESS Release and its effect on Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder and brain function. In a study with Alzheimer patients, we observed a significant improvement in gut barrier function and an increase in butyrate producing bacteria.
In the study with bipolar patients, taking OMNi-BiOTiC® STRESS Release improved cognitive function, attention and processing speed.
In a third study with OMNi-BiOTiC® STRESS Release, healthy individuals showed an increase in positive mood, a reduction in hopelessness and improved memory performance. The studies can be found on our website here.
In addition, there’s an ever growing body of evidence that probiotics and psychobiotics have other benefits as we age.
Meta-analysis of Research Studies Show Positive Impact of Probiotics for Anxiety
Over the past few years, more and more research has focused on the link between the gut microbiome and emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.
In one meta-analysis, McKean et al. reviewed seven studies that tested the effects of probiotic supplementation on psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety and perceived stress. The analysis found a statistically significant difference in improvement of psychological symptoms with probiotic supplementation, compared to placebo groups.
Getting Enough Probiotics In Your Diet
Probiotics have really stepped into their spotlight over the past few years. Today, we can find probiotic foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, probiotic drinks like Kombucha, and probiotic supplements in the form of gummies, capsules and powders. So, how to make sense of it all?
Many people incorporate foods such as yogurt, kimchi, or Kombucha into their diet to get probiotic bacteria such as B. infantis, B. bifidum, or lactobacillus to colonize their gut.
This is a great step towards living a healthier life as it increases the diversity of nutrients for the body. However, it is not the same as taking a high quality, multi-species probiotic supplement.
The strains in probiotic foods/beverages are often not human strains, so they simply pass through the gut within a few days instead of colonizing and providing long-term health benefits. They sit on the supermarket shelf for days or even weeks before being consumed, putting their survival rate at question while passing through the hostile environment of the stomach.
If you are looking to improve your gut microbiota and especially if you are experiencing digestive discomfort, it is highly recommended that you take a high quality, multispecies probiotic supplement that has been scientifically combined and tested in clinical studies for efficacy.
What’s the deal with supplements?
Multiple clinical studies have found that probiotics can positively impact symptoms of anxiety and improve mood. There are some probiotics on the market today that reference improvements in mood and reduction in anxiety as some of their features.
That being said, not all probiotics are created equal. The combination and number of strains included in the probiotic supplement plays a critical role in determining its impact on a range of health outcomes. Each probiotic strain performs a different function. The composition of bacterial strains will differ based on what the probiotic is trying to accomplish. The probiotic should be combined in a strategic way so that the probiotic bacterial strains work hand in hand as a team to achieve certain health goals.
A powerful recent study demonstrated that probiotic strains work in teams for optimal impact. A high quality, science-based probiotic supplement should contain strains that are mindfully combined for optimal impact. At OMNi-BiOTiC®, our products are tailored to specific health needs, rooted in 25 years of microbiome research and 100+ clinical studies to demonstrate efficacy.
The delivery mechanism also plays a critical role to ensure that the probiotic bacteria survive the passage through the hostile environment of the stomach. OMNi-BiOTiC® probiotics are formulated as a powder and mixed with water before ingesting them.
This process allows the freeze-dried bacteria to wake up in an environment that strengthens them, rather than killing them. In addition, we add prebiotic foods to the powder to provide a food source for the probiotics. Now, the bacteria are properly activated and rehydrated so they can pass through the stomach acid successfully and reach the intestine, where they will be most effective.
Time Your Probiotics Right
First and foremost, check the intake instructions of the product. Many probiotics are best taken on an empty stomach to reduce the time that they spend traveling through the hostile environment of the stomach.
Consistency is key! Taking your probiotic supplement on a regular basis makes it most effective. The more you can build a routine around it, the better. Try to take it at the same time each day, or before/after completing a certain activity so your mind will prompt you to remember. Popular examples include right after waking up in the morning or right before going to bed in the evening.
The benefits of probiotics may take a few weeks to set in, especially benefits affecting the brain and mood. Establishing a routine around when to take your probiotic can make it easier to remember.
Dealing with Stress and Anxiety in a COVID-19 World
In today’s world, anxiety and stress levels are high. We’re adjusting to a new normal and facing much uncertainty and unknown. As discussed, the gut is especially sensitive to anxiety-induced stress and many good bacteria in the gut die off during stressful times.
Changes to the gut microbiome negatively impact brain function in many ways, and are linked to changes in mood, ability to focus and concentrate, as well as memory. More than ever, restoring and maintaining a strong, healthy gut microbiome is essential for overall mental and physical wellness.