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Probiotics are naturally occurring microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract and provide a myriad of beneficial and necessary functions vital to our well-being.
But probiotics’ gut based functions are just the tip of the iceberg. The latest research on probiotics is showing fascinating connections between these gut dwellers and the brain. Certain strains of these neuroactive compound-producing gut flora have been characterized as “psychobiotics.” Called “probiotics for the mind”, psychobiotics seem to boost the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine which directly affect moods. They may also encourage the production of the short-chain fatty acid butyrate in the colon, which may help to lower anxiety and stress. Other such probiotics have shown to be effective in reducing levels of cortisol, one of the stress hormones.
According to researchers, this relationship, known as the “gut-brain axis,” is a unique interaction between the digestive system and the brain, specifically between the health of the gut and certain brain functions. This “gut-brain axis” actually refers to two things. It primarily describes the biochemical signaling that goes on between the central nervous system (CNS) and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but it is also used to refer specifically to the role that gut flora play in this exchange.
Further research is currently being done into this relationship, but already a clearer picture is emerging. Research is indicating a kind of “bi-directional communication line” between the CNS, comprised of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, and the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is made up of over 100 million nerve cells lining the entire gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum. Communication between brain and gut, and vice-versa, takes place along the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem all the way to the abdomen. This nerve is the path by which the neuroactive compounds produced by psychobiotics are able to directly affect our brain chemistry, altering things like stress and moods.
So far, this research has been concentrated around animals in laboratory environments. Studies compared the stress response of animals with various levels of gut flora, as well as the effects of certain neuroactive compounds produced by these floras.
Though more research on the relationship between probiotics and brain chemistry is ongoing, these exciting new findings show that there is a real connection between the microbes in our gut and our mind, affecting how we think, feel, react, and even remember.
At Deerland, we stay on the cutting edge of probiotic research, and work with our customers to develop supplement formulations with the specific performance benefits they’re seeking. To learn more about Deerland and meet our team of experts, visit https://deerland.com/about-us-2/research-development-team/.
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Dr. John Deaton is vice president of technology at Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, with more than 18 years experience working with proteins and enzymes. He holds a PhD in biochemistry from Texas A&M University, with post-graduate studies in microbiology, biophysics and cancer research. He has two papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and is a six-year member of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC), with three years served on the committee of microbiology.