Psychobiotics Are The New Buzzword In Gut And Brain Health, But They’re Not Ready Yet

This knowledge has led to the emergence of “psychobiotics,” a relatively new term for microbiome-targeted therapies for brain health, including fecal microbial transplants, diet, prebiotics, and probiotics. The idea is that if we can change our guts, maybe we can change our minds.

Suddenly, psychobiotics have become sexy.

They are a hot topic for researchers, who are exploring their use for a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions. The global probiotics market grew from $39 billion in 2016 to $58 billion in 2021. Increasingly, supplements are marketed as boosters of cognitive function, mood, and mental energy. We consume fermented foods like kim chi, yogurt, and kombucha, not only for our bodies but also for our brains. Even fecal transplants, in the form of “capsules,” have become more palatable. slightly.

“Interventions targeting the microbiome for mental health are of great interest to people with mental health conditions, but also in research,” explains Dr. Heidi Staudacher, a registered dietitian and postdoctoral researcher at Deakin University.

Despite this interest, what does the research say?

Evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet may be an effective adjunctive treatment for depression, in part because of the way it changes our microbiome, increasing health-promoting microbes (eg. F. prausnitzii, Bifidobacterium spp).


In an article, co-authored with Staudacher, and published in the May issue of Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology, It adds that some probiotics, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, can reduce the severity of depressive symptoms compared to placebo, when taken for several weeks.

In March, for the first time in the world, it was revealed that after two Australians with bipolar disorder received poop transplants, their symptoms improved.

A growing body of research also suggests that psychobiotics can improve symptoms of some neurological conditions.

But, the research is in its infancy and many questions remain such as what is a healthy microbiome? Is it the same for one person as for another? Are different diets useful for different people? If someone takes a probiotic, what dose makes a difference, which type is better, and do different microbiomes react differently to the same treatments?

“It is not yet possible to define the optimal gut microbiome, and thus make recommendations on how to achieve one,” Staudacher and a colleague wrote in a separate article published last year. They added: “Increasing evidence that metabolic responses to foods are highly individualized suggests that the best diet for one person may not be for another.”

Dr. Caitlin Cowan, a microbiota-gut-brain axis researcher at the University of Sydney, notes that most psychobiotic studies have been conducted in animals, and the results of human studies, to date, have been mixed.

“I certainly don’t think we’re at the stage of prescribing psychobiotics for mental health problems yet; we still have a lot to learn about their effectiveness,” says Cowan, who doesn’t take probiotics regularly because there isn’t enough evidence that probiotics help. healthy people.

“Probiotics have definitely become big business. They appeal to many people, but health claims are not strictly regulated, so you should consult a professional about whether a specific probiotic might be helpful for your specific problem.”

Staudacher agrees: “Not all products are likely to be effective.”

Even those that are, won’t work for everyone. “We don’t know why this is, and it could be that certain microbiome profiles are more receptive to these modulating effects,” he says.

And this highlights both the promise and the problem with psychobiotics: They have the potential to be game-changers, says Hill. But psychobiotics are being hyped prematurely by many supplement companies and unqualified individuals.

“There is this opportunity to modify the immune system starting with bacteria and maybe modify the nervous system in the same way, maybe reaching the brain, by treating the gut,” says Hill. “That is super exciting. We’re seeing data that are giving us glimpses that these connections indeed exist… I think that has knock-on effects for things like cancer, you name it, brain disorders.”

Still, he pauses and says that they haven’t arrived yet. The study of psychobiotics is in its infancy, he emphasizes, “but it’s a really great area of ​​research.”

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