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Probiotics Are Not Just Good For Your Gut, but May Help Anxiety and Memory Problems too

A new study by University College Cork has found that people who were given capsules containing Bifodobacterium longum 1714, a natural probiotic, suffered less stress and also gained better results on memory tests.

After the month long study, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol were reported in comparison to the levels measured when taking a placebo. The patients who took the probiotics also achieved better results during a range of memory tests, including a test where they were required to pair objects together. Although, at this stage, the findings are preliminary and based on a very small sample, it gives hope that the harmless strain of live bacteria contained in the probiotic, may have the potential to improve brain function.

The study consisted of 22 healthy men taking a daily capsule of the probiotic bacteria for a month then they were given a placebo to take for a month

During the study, 22 healthy men were given a daily capsule containing a billion of the probiotic bacteria which they were required to take for a month. After this period they were given a placebo, which they also had to take for one month. None of the men knew which pill they were taking. Their stress levels and memory were tested at the beginning of the trial and at monthly intervals. The men’s brain activity was also monitored using an EEG machine. The results of the tests showed that those men who were taking the probiotic reported being less anxious, and their ability to remember things was enhanced.

Researchers at Cork have previously looked at the effects of giving this probiotic to mice. The results in these studies seemed to indicate that it had the ability to improve their memories and also work as an antidepressant. This current study with probiotics is one of the few that has been able to replicate the rodents’ results in humans.

While further studies are needed to understand more about how Bifodobacterium longum affects the brain, it has been suggested that the bacteria release certain substances that have the ability to activate the vagus nerve, which connects the gut to the brain. Alternatively, they may reach the brain via the blood. Our guts naturally contain billions of bacteria, some of which produce chemicals which our bodies need, but we are unable to produce ourselves. By their nature, probiotics are a safe bacteria, and so if we are able to find those which have a positive effect on mental health, it would be a major advance for both neuroscience and psychiatry.

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