Your Brain On Psychobiotics: A New Class Of Living Nootropics

A new probiotic perspective on neuroscience is emerging, which places a strong emphasis on the statement: ‘you are what you eat.’
As John Cryan describes in the video below, the bacteria in your gut are far more important for your mental health than you may realize!

John Cryan - TEDx - Feed Your Microbes - Nurture Your Mind

Why Do We Need Probiotics?

Your body is not just your temple – it is also home to trillions of bacteria, most of which are vital to our health and well-being!

The majority of these bacteria reside in our guts, as that is where they get a steady supply of nutrients from the food we eat.

Science is becoming aware that we are not feeding ourselves in the way we think. Instead, we are feeding these bacteria in our gut, which release by-products in the form of fats and acids. Not only are these by-products readily absorbed by our bodies, but they also contain a wealth of nutrients, antioxidants, trace minerals, and healthy fats that replenish our bodily reserves.

For example, it was discovered that more serotonin and melatonin get manufactured in our guts than in our brains!

In this respect, our gut microbiome ought to be viewed as our selective laboratory, whereby probiotic bacteria produce some of the best foods and medicines for us to enjoy.

The only problem, however, is that most people do not consume enough genuinely probiotic foods to maintain a healthy gut. The probiotic foods available are made using heat and pressure, resulting in sterile products that lack the bacteria that we need to keep our intestines sufficiently populated.

This results in anxiety, depression, a weakened immune system, increased pain perception, and could be one of the underlying reasons for the rampant disease and malnutrition conditions we see today.

Furthermore, many eat diets that do not promote these bacteria to flourish, yielding gut inflammation, and an unbalanced pH – a favorable environment for pathogenic bacteria!

For these reasons and more, it is vital to replenish the bacteria in our guts.

7 Brain Health Benefits of Psychobiotics

Without our gut microbiome, it is suspected that many bodily systems (including the brain) would not function nearly half as well!

Let’s take a look at how probiotics benefit mental health and boost brainpower.

1. Reduces Neuroinflammation
One of the leading causes for many mental health diseases is neuroinflammation.

Rats that were supplemented with a specific probiotic strain showed a major reduction in stress-induced neuroinflammation[1]Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain reduces anxiety and improves cognitive function in the hyperammonemia rat.

This is not news to the scientific community. It has long been known that probiotics have a very positive effect on reversing overall bodily inflammation.

The reason is that many of their by-products have a significant antioxidant ability, which protects us from the effects of inflammation as well as modulating our immune function and preventing the release of inflammatory cytokines.

2. Curbs Cravings
Speaking of inflammation, excessive sugar consumption causes the body to release large amounts of it. This is a common global problem today, as sugar is highly addictive!

Many who use probiotics report a reduction in sweet food cravings and more of an urge to eat healthier foods – specifically prebiotic foods! Prebiotics are foods that help probiotic bacteria to grow, whereas junk food tends not to.

There is a growing body of research which suggests that our gut bacteria control the way we think and feel, because they produce nutrients that are vital for creating hormones and neurotransmitters as well as the actual compounds themselves[2]Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience.

In this regard, it makes sense then that probiotic bacteria produce more feel-good chemicals when fed the correct prebiotic foods, and other inflammation-causing foods (like sugar) will detract from that process.

Thus eating probiotic foods will not only help to reduce inflammation, but it will help you to curb those cravings and feel motivated to be healthy!

3. Fights Depression
This brings us to our next point. Thanks to the ability of probiotic bacteria to produce neurotransmitters as well as reduce bodily inflammation, they play a massive role in fighting depression!

Serotonin, dopamine, and GABA are three of the main neurotransmitters that are either created or co-created by the probiotic bacteria in our guts.

In depressed people, these neurotransmitters are usually deficient, or the receptors for picking them up are. Probiotics can help to increase the amounts of them found naturally in the body. They have also been shown to help induce neurogenesis thanks to the antioxidant compounds they give off.

Understanding this, it’s simple to see how probiotics may be the ultimate remedy for clinical depression!

4. Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Lots of data has shown how antibiotics wipe out gut bacteria as well as induce stress and anxiety.

In modified rats that have entirely no bacteria in their guts, it is a well-known fact that they are far more timid, cowardly, anxious, and even anti-social compared to rats who have a gut microbiome. Administering probiotics to these rats reversed these symptoms.

The results have been replicated in children with Autism. Probiotics appear to make these children less socially awkward, stressed out, and anxious!

5. Boosts Cognition & Creativity
The chemical by-products produced by a healthy gut microbiome all work to boost cognition and creativity!

This includes the neurotransmitters mentioned above (such as serotonin and dopamine) as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF’s). BDNF’s stimulate the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis), which naturally boosts cognitive function from problem-solving to better memory quality.

These beneficial microbes also emit many nutrients in the form of short-chain fatty acids. Nutrients are very easily absorbed in this form, as well as forming a great source of energy. It has been proven that short-chain fatty acids are the best food for boosting cognition and keeping a consistent mental focus.

6. Enhances Neuroplasticity
The BDNF’s mentioned in the section above are also essential for developing plastic (adaptable) neurons – this is known as neuroplasticity.

Since probiotics are the manufacturers of copious amounts of BDNF’s, it figures that repopulating and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome would improve neuroplasticity. This has far-reaching implications, as those who have suffered from severe brain damage or neurodegenerative disorders can benefit immensely.

7. Helps To Regulate Hormones
Last, but not least, probiotics help us to regulate our hormones[3]The Improvement of Hypertension by Probiotics: Effects on Cholesterol, Diabetes, Renin, and Phytoestrogens.

This includes not only our sex hormones but also hormones like ghrelin and insulin, which are responsible for when we feel hungry and our sugar metabolism. Regulating these hormones with probiotics has shown to keep blood pressure down, reverse hypertension, improve cholesterol, and help to prevent rapid weight gain.

All these factors are associated with the onset of mental health or neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Probiotics appear to be an effective tool in helping us to fight against these age-related conditions!

3 Ways To Improve Gut & Brain Health Using Probiotics

Here are a few quick ways to boost your gut health and increase your brain power!

1. Take A Good Quality Probiotic Supplement
Taking a good quality liquid probiotic supplement is probably the best place to start. This is guaranteed to repopulate your gut bacteria with the best beneficial strains available.

They say it takes up to 6 months to fully repopulate your microbiome, but many people experience benefits after just two weeks! Once you have firmly established a healthy microbiome, pre- and probiotic foods should be more than enough to sustain it.

If you have to take a course of antibiotics, it is recommended to use one of these probiotic supplements for about 10-14 days afterward. This is because antibiotics kill all bacteria in your gut, not making a distinction between the good guys and the bad guys.

2. Make & Consume More Probiotic Ferments
Probiotic foods have been around for probably more than thousands of years. There is not a single culture on the planet that does not have some form of fermented food that they ingest, whether it is cultured milk products in Europe or pickled vegetables in Asia.

These fermented foods are different than what you will find at your local grocery store. Most mass-produced “probiotic” foods have been heat-treated or are loaded with preservatives that kill off the beneficial bacteria and defeat the purpose.

The best way to ensure you are getting healthy doses of probiotic foods in your diet is to make your own fermentation. We have briefly outlined how to do that in the sections below!

Doing it yourself is the best way to ensure the best results. However, you can also find a few of these foods being sold online if you don’t fancy the idea yourself.

3. Probiotic Pickling
All you need to make fermented vegetables are a couple of glass jars (preferably with pressure-sensitive lids), good-quality salt, whey (powder or liquid) and some herbs and spices. Cabbage, carrots, beetroots, eggplants, cucumbers, bell peppers and string beans make some of the nicest candidates.

Thinly slice your chosen vegetable/s, place them in your jar, add a tablespoon or less of salt and press them to extract the juices. Then add your whey, herbs, and spices, and top up with water until the contents are covered – make sure to leave an inch of space between the liquid and lid. You may want to air them briefly on a daily basis to prevent pressure build-up unless you have the right container.

Cultured Milk Products

Cultured milk products are also great for brain health, and they have a long history of aiding those with lactose intolerance to be able to digest lactose.

Leaving milk aside in a jar for a week and straining the contents will result in having your own liquid whey as well as delicious probiotic cream cheese!

One can also experiment with different starter cultures in their milk and attempt to make kefir or other yogurt products.

For more information on probiotics and the art of cheese making, here is a great guide that covers all the basics.

Kombucha Tea

You can also experiment by brewing your own kombucha tea, which is extremely delicious and contains all the benefits of drinking green tea (of which there are many!).

This involves brewing a batch of green tea with quite a bit of sugar. When the tea is room temperature, add a SCOBY (a kombucha starter culture) or two, cover the jar in a cloth and wait 7-10 days to strain (21 days in cold weather). The result is a tasty semi-fizzy drink that is rich in probiotic by-products!

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