Recent research from neurobiologists at Oxford University has uncovered evidence of a
potential link between the bacteria in our gut and the quality of our
mental health. Though the body of research on the subject has grown in
recent years, most of these studies have relied on animal rather than
human subjects. Using 45 human subjects, the Oxford study yields new insights
between anxiety and bacteria of the gut. Participants took either a prebiotic
or a placebo every day for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks,
researchers completed several computer tests assessing how the subjects
processed emotional information, like positive and negatively charged words.
Researchers found that “prebiotics,” supplements designed to
boost healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, may have an anti-anxiety
effect. This significant new information suggests that prebiotics may
alter how people process emotional information. One test from the study
revealed that subjects who had taken the prebiotic paid less attention
to negative information and more attention to positive information. When
compared to the placebo group, the prebiotic group experienced less anxiety
towards negative stimuli. A similar effect has been observed among individuals
taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Another interesting
detail emerging from the study is that prebiotic subjects had lower levels
of “cortisol,” a stress hormone linked to anxiety and depression.
Why Is This Research Important?
According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Philip Burnet, “prebiotics
are ‘food’ for good bacteria already present in the gut. Taking
prebiotics therefore increases the numbers of all species of good bacteria
in the gut, which will theoretically have greater beneficial effects than
[introducing] a single species.” Similar findings have been found
in other studies.
Research conducted by UCLA found that women who got their prebiotics through yogurt consumption exhibited
signs of altered brain function when resting or while performing an emotion-recognition
task. Dr. Kristen Tillisch, author of the UCLA study, stated, “Our
study shows that the gut/brain connection is a two way street.”
So what does the future hold? Will modern treatments build upon the newly
found links between gut bacteria and anxiety? With the body and quality
of research continuing to grow, only time will tell.
For more information about bacteria and anxiety, contact our team
of Chico mental health professionals at Therapeutic Solutions. We’re
here to help you live life in balance.