In the UK in 2016-17, 1.4 million people had mental health issues, over half of them (53%) had anxiety or stress-related disorders, while a third (33%) had depression.
In a recent study published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, researchers found that probiotics either taken by themselves or when combined with prebiotics, may help reduce depression.
The research was conducted by a team at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. One author of the study is Sanjay Noonan.
Foods that broaden the profile of helpful bacteria in the gut are collectively known as probiotics, while prebiotics is compounds that help these bacteria to flourish.
A two-way relationship exists between the brain and the digestive tract, known as the gut-brain axis.
And the possibility that the microbiome—the range and number of bacteria resident in the gut—might help treat mental ill health has become a focus of interest in recent years.
In the study, the researchers searched for relevant studies published in English between 2003 and 2019, which looked at the potential therapeutic contribution of pre-and probiotics in adults with depression and/or anxiety disorders.
They found 7 studies. All 7 examined at least 1 probiotic strain; 4 looked at the effect of combinations of multiple strains.
In all, 12 probiotic strains featured in these selected studies, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidium.
One study looked at combined pre-probiotic treatment, while one looked at prebiotic therapy by itself.
All studies concluded that probiotic supplements either alone or in combination with prebiotics may be linked to measurable reductions in depression.
And every study showed a big fall or improvement in anxiety symptoms and/or clinically relevant changes in biochemical measures of anxiety and/or depression with probiotic or combined pre-probiotic use.
Of the 12 different probiotics investigated, 11 were potentially useful, the findings showed.
The team says future research is needed to see whether the effects are long-lasting and whether there might be any unwanted side effects associated with prolonged use.
Probiotics may help reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals, such as cytokines, as is the case in inflammatory bowel disease, suggest the researchers.
Or they may help direct the action of tryptophan, a chemical thought to be important in the gut-brain axis in psychiatric disorders.
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