Psychobiotics is an emerging school of investigation suggesting there is a more going on beyond probiotics. Probiotics is based on the hypothesis that a person’s mental well-being is effected by the health of their digestive system. There is evidence from multiple studies suggesting the presence of certain types of microbes in the gut can have either positive or negative influence on mood and cognition. The entire human body is interconnected and just as certain mental states can positively or negatively influence the physical health of a person, the opposite also appears to be true.
The primary tool for influencing mental state via bacteria, at least for the past 30 or so years, has been a class of microorganisms called probiotics. Recently, some scientists have attempted to broaden the research by looking at a class of microorganisms called psychobiotics.
For starters, psychobiotics are a purely theoretical class of microorganisms believed to be a superset of probiotics, which are also, as of yet, scientifically unproven. According to the hypothesis being tested by a small set of scientists, psychobiotics, if they exist, can be found in certain types of foods. Psychobiotics represent any type of bacteria that can intervene with mental health after being introduced into the gut.
Separating proven fact from postulation, it has long since been proven that certain bacteria provide improved physical health benefits when present in the gut.
This knowledge is the reason that doctors will often recommend certain types of diets. Furthermore, it is also proven that certain types of activities, including maintaining a healthy diet and exercising, can produce positive mental health conditions.
What has not yet been scientifically proven, is whether the presence of certain bacteria in the gut directly causes positive mental states through internal communication between the gut and the brain, or whether the presence of these bacteria and positive mental states correlate simply because the same activities cause both effects. Supporters of probiotics believe the former while opponents believe the latter.
The psychobiotic hypothesis suggests that mental benefits from bacteria can be broader than just “anti-anxiety” and “anti-depression” benefits that are assigned to probiotics.
This hypothesis suggests that the right bacteria can also provide the following benefits:
- Improved memory
- Decreased stress reactivity
- Lessening of inflammation
- A decrease in neuroticism and resulting social anxiety
The studies for such benefits are entirely preliminary and have yet been subjected to rigorous confirmation standards that are critical to scientific discovery, but if the early results prove consistent, there may be a causal relationship between gut bacteria and mental health.
Where to Find Psychobiotics
Psychobiotics are simply not something that your doctor will prescribe to you, even if they were proven science. Assuming the theory is true, psychobiotics are naturally occurring in some food and result from engaging in certain types of diets. It is possible, at some future date, if the hypothesis is proven, that psychobiotics may be artificially created. However, for now they simply appear in natural foods and diets.
According to the theory, exercising and maintaining a diet that is low in saturated fats will increase the psychobiotic bacteria in your gut. Additionally, foods like yogurt and sauerkraut are believed to increase psychobiotic bacteria as well.
For the most part, whether the theory is true or not, these behaviors and foods are healthy for mind and body.
However, it is important to note that the balance of gut microbiota is rather delicate and can easily be disrupted by attempts to manipulate it. These manipulations can potentially result in:
- Bowel syndromes
- Cardiac valve diseases
- Premature birth in pregnant women
Before adjusting their diet in a way that attempts to manipulate gut microbiota, a person should talk with a medical doctor and ensure that it will be safe.