Over the past few years the popularity of probiotics, whether in food or as supplements, has grown like…well…like bacteria in a Petri dish. Several studies in the fall of 2013 looked at whether probiotics could help ease depression, and the most recent results look promising.
A lot of women, of course, have known about probiotics for decades. If you had an ear infection or sore throat that your doctor treated with antibiotics, then you knew to buy some yogurt with active cultures on your way home with your prescription…to prevent a yeast infection caused by the antibiotics you just bought.
Antibiotics – a good thing gone berserk.
There is no doubt that since their discovery antibiotics have saved thousands of lives. Before we had them readily available, any infection, large or small, could prove to be deadly, especially in areas where a sterile environment was difficult to find.
But as so often happens, if a few antibiotics are good surely, the doctors thought, more would be even better. As a result, we saw the rise of antibiotic resistant bad bacteria, at the same time we killed off millions of the good probiotic bacteria which keep our digestive system humming along, and do other good things we never even expected.
It may be that some symptoms of depression are related as much to what is going on in our gut as what is going on in our brains. Depression, stress and anxiety can all cause an upset stomach. Writing in USA Today, Julia Savacol reports that there is evidence this gut/brain connection works both ways. If your tummy feels better, so will you.
Not just for your tummy anymore.
Initially, probiotic bacteria were studied for their digestive benefits, for conditions such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And specific yogurts are marketed not only for taste, but because the good bacteria they contain keeps our digestive tract in working order.
But according to Savacol, while the digestive results were mixed, a study at the University of California found that women who ate yogurt with lots of live probiotic cultures, twice a day for four weeks, showed measurable improvement in their moods. A separate study in Canada found probiotics lowered the stress hormone cortisol, and reduced related symptoms of anxiety.
“Psychobiotics” to the rescue.
I can’t help it…the name “psychobiotics” makes me want to laugh. It sounds like some lab experiment gone wrong in a 1950s Sci-Fi movie. Like The Blob. But according to Science Daily, Irish scientist Timothy Dinan, and his colleagues at the University College Cork, see enough potential for certain probiotics to help depression and other mental health conditions, to give them their own name. The results are real, not science fiction, and the possibility of easing depression symptoms is real as well.
Tips to look for when choosing a probiotic.
Eating probiotic rich foods are always a good choice before trying supplements. Natural Greek yogurt or kefir are excellent choices, especially if you buy unsweetened brands and add your own fresh fruit. Sweetened varieties are okay if you watch the sugar content. If you prefer something really sour or spicy, sauerkraut or Korean kimchi are both high in probiotics. Not everyone can digest cabbage easily, though, so try small portions to start.
When buying yogurt, check the sell-by dates carefully. You want to buy yogurt with live active cultures, which are vulnerable to temperature changes, I’ve found that grocery store staff have a hard time keeping all the brands on display up to date.
If you want to try a supplement, do some research first. Tests done by the independent organization Consumer Labs showed that the labels on probiotic supplements were often less than accurate. If you decide to try a supplement, research the brand and monitor your results. Savacol recommends storing them in a cool, dry place.
As with anything else, just eating lots of yogurt or taking probiotic pills is not a depression cure all. A life full of healthy choices can all add up to lifting your energy and your mood. So you might as well have a few yummy choices while you’re at it. Your tummy will probably thank you, too.
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/23/probiotics-bacteria-supplements/5711999/. Contains a list of specific probiotic live cultures to look for.
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