You may have heard of the term, “good bacteria”, usually referring to probiotics or the various forms of helpful bacteria that inhabit our body, especially our digestive system. The supplements known as probiotics supposedly restore the levels of good bacteria in our body to help balance the amount of good and bad bacteria in our body. By doing so, probiotics or good bacteria aid in the process of digestion as well as help relieve common digestive ailments such as bloating or health conditions such as infectious diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, these good bacteria are also important in regulating the immune system as well as producing certain vitamins.
While many people are jumping on the probiotic bandwagon for its digestive benefits, there may be another reason to consume these good bacteria as well. In recent years, scientists have been looking into the connection between the brain and the gut. Also known as the gut-brain axis, scientists have found that the brain and the gut often communicate with each other. In an article published in Harvard Health, “Can probiotics help treat depression and anxiety?”, Athos Bousvaros, MD explains that many neurotransmitters that are important for the brain—serotonin and acetylcholine—are also produced in the gut. While these neurotransmitters in the gut assist in the smooth running of the digestive system, there is a possibility that they also have a hand in regulating mood and other neuropsychiatric conditions, especially given their link to “happiness chemicals” like serotonin and dopamine.
So, should we all add these good bacteria to our list of daily supplements to take? According to a Men’s Health article on probiotics, while scientists have found an important connection between the brain and the gut, there is little research that proves that probiotics have a measurable favourable impact on mood, anxiety, or stress. More research is needed to determine whether probiotics may be useful in treating mental illness in the future.
However, given the array of benefits that probiotics may have on the human body and the relatively few side effects, it may not hurt to add a few probiotic-rich foods—kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha—into your diet.
Bousvaros, A. (2017). Can probiotics help treat depression and anxiety? Retrieved from www.health.harvard.edu.
Shortsleeve, C. (2018). Can you treat depression and anxiety with probiotics? Retrieved from www.menshealth.com.