The National Institute on Aging (NIA) reports that, just as the human body changes over time, so too does the human mind.
For instance, certain parts of the brain begin to shrink and, in some cases, blood flow rates can become minimized and neurological communication reduced.
The NIA stresses that not all of the changes are bad, such as having the ability to use the knowledge gained from a lifetime of experiences to learn and better understand new things or improve upon language-related skills. But others aren’t quite so enjoyable, namely those related to difficulties focusing on the task at have or having increased trouble with finding the right words.
In an effort to reduce if not completely eliminate these latter, more negative effects, many people are in search of healthy yet effective ways to improve their cognition. One option that exists today involves the use of probiotics.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health explains that probiotics are “live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits.” Taken by roughly four million U.S. adults today, these microorganisms have been scientifically proven to help prevent or treat a number of health conditions ranging from digestive disorders to tooth decay to colic in infants.
Even the common cold has been found to respond positively to a probiotic treatment regimen. Though one meta-analysis found that the response marginal in regard to cold prevention, the researchers did conclude that “probiotics had a modest effect in common cold reduction.”
The way probiotics are thought to work involves what is commonly referred to as the gut-brain axis. According to research published in the Annals of Gastroenterology, this axis “consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.” In other words, the bacteria in the gut impacts how well the brain is able to work and how well the brain works impacts bacteria in the gut.
The brain-probiotic connection
Found in many food items and supplemental options, probiotics have also been linked to healthier brain function. For instance, one systematic review in the Annals of General Psychiatry found that probiotics can potentially help alleviate depression, thereby improving a person’s mood, anxiety, and other cognitive symptoms.
Another study, this one published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found a link between probiotics and improved cognitive function for individuals with Alzheimer’s. This is extremely positive news as the Alzheimer’s Association indicates that this brain-based disease is the most common form of dementia, worsens over time, and has no known cure.
A probiotic for the brain regimen
For these reasons, developing a probiotic regimen can potentially help improve one’s mental health, both now and in the future. What does this type of regimen look like?
Harvard Medical School shares that probiotics can be found in various food sources, some of which include plain Greek yogurt, kefir, pickles, and sauerkraut. Therefore, including these items in one’s diet can potentially help protect and enhance brain function.
Probiotics are also available in supplement form. Though, Harvard suggests that taking manufactured probiotics is only recommended after consulting with a physician as, in some instances, they can result in negative, and sometimes deadly side effects.
Potential negative effects of probiotics
For example, there are certain people for whom probiotics should be avoided because they can actually create inflammation and infection versus prevent it. Research published in the journal Nutrients indicates that one group of people who fit into this category are those who’ve been diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. This is because their gut microbiome “is very different than the microbiome of those not affected with HIV.”
Harvard further warns that these potential negative side effects may extend to anyone with a weakened immune system, whether by illness or medication. Additionally, since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate probiotic supplements, there are some concerns there as well.
Otherwise, Healthline reports that probiotics are “considered safe for most people.” That being said, it may take the body a few days to adjust to having more of these microorganisms in its system, resulting in increased gas, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort until the digestive tract has time to fully adapt to the introduction of these probiotic sources.