Psychobiotics: What They Are, What They're Used For, and Which Are the Most Effective

The inclusion of psychobiotics in the diet can have a positive effect by reducing the risk of developing disorders related to the nervous system.
Psychobiotics: What They Are, What They're Used For, and Which Are the Most Effective
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 15 March, 2021

Psychobiotics are bacteria that, ingested through diet, are able to establish a positive effect on brain health. In recent years, experts have established the link between the gut and the brain relationship, stating that changes in the microbiota generate an impact on the nervous system.

As a result of this, the importance of certain strains of probiotics has been studied. Evidence has shown that many of these bacteria are capable of reducing the risk of developing certain disorders such as depression, thus improving an individual’s quality of life.

The gut-brain axis

One of the most innovative discoveries in the field of physiology in recent years is the consolidation of the gut-brain relationship. It has been possible to show that there’s a connection between both organs, in such a way that they can influence each other.

In fact, many of the anxiety processes are related to alterations in intestinal motility, which can lead to diarrhea or constipation.

In this sense, generating positive alterations in the microbiota can be an effective treatment against various pathologies of a nervous nature. There’s some evidence that indicates that the modulation of the intestinal flora can prevent depressive processes, or even improve their management.

Furthermore, some pathologies related to aging, such as Alzheimer’s, could be prevented by increasing the permeability of the intestinal barrier. This is stated by a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

In this way, a change in the microbiota can generate a reduction in the number of toxic beta-amyloid compounds that pass into the bloodstream, which is related to a lower presence of them in the brain mass and a lower risk of developing neurodegenerative problems.

Psychobiotics may be effective in helping to treat various diseases of the nervous system.
Some cases of Alzheimer’s could benefit from the use of psychobiotics.

Psychobiotics to treat brain pathologies

Given the aforementioned relationship, it has been proposed that probiotic supplementation could be effective in preventing and treating a large number of problems that affect the central nervous system.

The bacterial strains capable of generating an influence on brain health are called psychobiotics, but not all have been able to demonstrate their effects in long-term studies with large samples.

Some scientific journals, such as the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, have published positive results about the use of psychobiotics in the treatment of neurodegenerative pathologies.

These bacteria can prevent the development of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Supplements are increasingly being recommended earlier for patients with a family history.

The benefits of psychobiotics

In accordance with what we’ve mentioned above, the beneficial effects of the inclusion of psychobiotics in the dietary regimen can be established with precision. First of all, it should be noted that these bacteria can improve self-control, since many of the strains of bacteria act by exerting changes on the brain areas that control emotional activity.

They can also be used with the aim of improving the management of depressive processes. Above all, the bacteria of the genus Bifidobacterium have shown their efficiency in this task.

Its regular intake manages to reduce episodes of anguish or anxiety, improving the quality of life of a patient and allowing less conditioning in their daily activities.

Finally, it should be noted that these elements generate a positive impact when it comes to reducing stress. This situation doesn’t only have a negative effect on brain health, but also on aging and on the functioning of other organs.

The cardiovascular system, for example, suffers indirect consequences from an increase in stress levels, thus increasing the risk of accidents in the medium term.

How to choose a psychobiotic correctly?

As with any other type of probiotic, choosing a psychobiotic requires some knowledge about it.

As these are live bacteria, it’s essential to ensure that they reach the intestine in a functional state. In this way, they’ll be able to colonize certain parts of the digestive tract and exercise their protective functions.

The best thing here is that the product to be consumed has demonstrated its effects in a double-blind, randomized, and placebo study. It’s also usually recommended for it not to contain more than two different strains of bacteria. This is because the number of organisms of each type that reach the target area would be reduced.

At the same time, experts recommend that the product contains at least 108 bacteria or colony-forming units.

On the other hand, the pharmaceutical format is also important. The best thing is to buy these supplements in capsules, as these are able to resist stomach acids and prevent the death of bacteria in this area.

If a person uses a powdered product, it may be advisable to consume it together with an antacid-type drug, in order to modulate stomach pH. In this case, it’s also advisable to take it after meals, since proteins and lipids can buffer gastric acids.

At the same time, the addition of a prebiotic that can stimulate the growth of the bacteria included in the product can also be considered. Prebiotics are nothing more than soluble fermentable fibers.

These serve as an energetic substrate for many microorganisms and generate short-chain fatty acids with anti-inflammatory capacity, which are very beneficial for the body.

Fermented foods as a source of psychobiotics

In addition to a supplement, it’s possible to introduce fermented foods that contain bacteria with psychobiotic capacities inside them. This is the case with dairy products such as yogurt or kefir.

These types of products have microorganisms of the Lactobacillus genus that have been shown to be capable of generating a positive effect on the health of the central nervous system.

Thus, the regular consumption of these foods is recommended, always in the context of a varied and balanced diet. In addition, it’s important to ensure the consumption of soluble fiber. This can be ensured by including fruit in the diet, and cereals such as oats.

In fact, the beta-glucans contained in oats can exert a beneficial modulating effect on the microbiota, as pointed out by research published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Psychobiotics can be found in some foods, like yogurt.
Yogurt is an excellent source of psychobiotics, as well as having other health benefits.

The dangers of psychobiotics

Despite its beneficial effects, there are some circumstances where psychobiotics shouldn’t be administered, as these could lead to adverse results. We’re talking here about the case of immunosuppressed people.

These individuals can develop a bacterial overgrowth in the intestine, a situation that should be avoided due to its negative impact on health.

Even in people who suffer from dysbiosis, it may be necessary to avoid this type of bacteria, and to be more careful in choosing the strains to reverse this process. All this should occur in conjunction with a dietary protocol that limits, for a certain time, the contribution of fiber.

This can destroy the harmful microorganisms that cause these problems and increase the population of those that can create health benefits.

Be that as it may, before starting a treatment with probiotics or psychobiotics it’s always advisable to visit a specialist. They can recommend the most appropriate way to carry out this task, as well as the right product for each of the individual needs established.

The importance of avoiding toxins

Apart from including psychobiotics in the diet, it’s important to make other modifications in order to improve mental health and reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative pathologies in the medium-term.

An example here is to avoid the consumption of toxic substances such as alcohol. Drinks that contain alcohol produce a negative impact on a cognitive level. This doesn’t only happen temporarily; it can also produce permanent damage.

Thus, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, as well as with lower intellectual dexterity over the years. In parallel, they’re also considered to be a risk factor for the development of other complex pathologies related to the brain or other vital organs.

It’s important to avoid certain elements that may be present in the daily diet and that have a harmful effect on the body. The aluminum in some packaging, for example, could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in the long term.

Mercury, introduced into the body through eating large fish such as sharks, could also accumulate in adipose tissue and cause cognitive issues.

Even some food additives could have these kinds of effects, so fresh food is always recommended. It’s important, as far as possible, to avoid the ingestion of ultra-processed industrial-type products.

These contain nutrients, such as trans-fatty acids and sugars, that can produce negative changes in the microbiota. From here, there is an increase in the permeability and the number of beta-amyloid compounds that reach the cerebrospinal fluid.

Psychobiotics, a new form of treatment

As you’ve seen, psychobiotics are a new way to prevent and treat many problems related to the central nervous system. In this sense, it’s necessary to guarantee the presence of fermented foods in the diet. It’s also possible to introduce a supplement to increase the presence of said bacteria.

In any case, it’s always advisable to go to a specialist to obtain accurate advice about the type of product you should purchase.

Keep in mind that all of these elements must be introduced in the context of a healthy and balanced diet. If not, then they won’t be able to exert a positive effect on the body.

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