By: Dr. David Mooney
There is now ample research and preliminary trials to support the ability of gut microbes to influence mood and behavior. Numerous studies have also shown that the administration of probiotics can even reverse certain psychological disorders.
A brief history:
Fermented foods have provided probiotic bacteria in the gut throughout history. All traditional cultures fermented their foods, lived in and with nature, and ate from it in a way that promoted a now endangered diversity of gut microbes. Food fermentation dates back more than seven thousand years to winemaking in the Middle East. The Chinese were fermenting cabbage six thousand years ago.
The Russian scientist Elie Mechnikov, considered the father of immunology, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1908 for his investigation of the benefits of lactic acid bacteria to human health. He studied the correlation between the longevity of Bulgarian peasants and their consumption of fermented milk products. He suggested that “oral administration of cultures of fermentative bacteria would implant the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.” Mechnikov believed that toxic bacteria in the gut contributed to aging and that lactic acid could help prolong life. He coined the phrase “probiotic” to describe beneficial bacteria.
People have enjoyed one form of fermented food or another long before probiotics became available from health food stores. Think sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), yogurt (fermented milk products), and kimchi (a spicy condiment usually made from cabbage or cucumber that is the national dish of Korea).
There is no better way to consume a rich array of healthy bacteria than to consume them through wholly natural sources, such as sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables. Bacteria consumed in this manner are easily accepted by the body. They work in various ways. They help maintain the integrity of the gut lining; balance the body’s pH; serve as natural antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals; regulate immunity; and control inflammation. In addition, probiotics suppress the growth and even invasion of potentially pathogenic bacteria by producing antimicrobial substances called bacteriocins (proteins that inhibit or kill the growth of “bad bacteria.”) As these bacteria metabolize their sources of fuel from your diet, they liberate various nutrients contained in the foods you eat, making them easier to be absorbed. For example, they increase the availability of vitamins A, C, K, and many of the B group vitamins.
Most people do not have any side effects to probiotics but for some, especially those whose gut bacteria has been out of balance for years, there can be a “transitional period” when existing problems such as gas and bloating can actually be aggravated.
When choosing a probiotic, it is important to choose one that has the strains that have been demonstrated to be effective for your needs:
For the immune system: L. paracasei, L. rhamnosus, L. acidophilus, L. johnsonii, L. fermentum, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, B. longum, and B. animalis.
For anti-inflammatory functions: L. paracasei, L .plantarum, and P. pentosaceus.
For depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric concerns: Strains in the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus genuses have been shown to have an emerging role. Look for high-quality probiotics that contain a variety of strains in the billions.
Dr. David Mooney is a native Vermonter and serves as the Medical Director at Lamoille County Mental Health Services. He completed his premedical studies at the University of Vermont and obtained his medical degree at American University of the Caribbean. Dr. Mooney then returned to Vermont where he completed his residency in psychiatry and also a fellowship in Public and Community Psychiatry through the University of Vermont. He has decades of experience in hospital and community psychiatry. His main interests lie in Integrative Medicine for all types of mental illnesses, combining traditional and holistic approaches.