Psychobiotics: A Happy Gut Makes a Happy Brain. A Depressed Gut Makes a Depressed You. - Magaziner

Psychobiotics: A Happy Gut Makes a Happy Brain. A Depressed Gut Makes a Depressed You.

Research: “When the gut is stressed, the gut may communicate bad thoughts to the brain that lead to psychiatric illnesses.”

At the Magaziner Center, we specialize in identifying the underlying problems or deficiencies that may disrupt normal brain chemistry and cause resulting psychological effects. One such resulting psychological effect is depression. Depression of course is a chronic illness characterized by long periods of sadness, loss, anger or frustration that interfere with everyday life. While many patients we see have had a long history or “trial and error,” medications looking for optimal dosage, researchers are discovering what clinicians, such as we here at the Magaziner Center have empirical known. Probiotics can fight depression. A happy gut can make a happy brain.

In the opening paragraph from a recent study (1) from University College Cork investigators explained :

“The brain-gut-microbiota axis has been put forward as a new paradigm in neuroscience, which may be of relevance to mental illness. The mechanisms of signal transmission in the brain-gut-microbiota axis are complex and involve bidirectional communications which enables gut microbes to communicate with the brain, and the brain to communicate with the microbes.” 

Recent advances have shown that the gut microbiota (the collective name for the bacteria that lives in the digestive/intestinal tract) and its interaction with the brain, has an influence on behavior and mental health. A recent study in the The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology (2) acknowledged interaction that has attracted the attention of neuroscientists and psychiatrists as a potential therapy for various mental health disorders.

In April 2020, in the journal Molecular psychiatry,(3) researchers explained this communication further: “The gut microbiota are being called the human “second brain,” as they play a key role in the regulation of the central nervous system . Recent findings provide strong evidence for the presence of bidirectional communication networks between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system, and such crosstalk has been correlated with alterations in major depressive disorder and other psychiatric disorders.

Simply, the brain and gut talk to each other. They have conversations about depression and other psychiatric disorders.

In a May 2017 publication in the journal Reviews in the neurosciences (4) speculated that the gut and brain talk about depression and other mental health disorders including bipolarism. The paper also speculated that major depressive disorder patients and bipolar disorder patients may benefit from probiotics. Here is what the research team wrote:

“Despite intensified research efforts to improve the treatment options and remission rates in mood disorders, no disease modifying treatment exists for these disorders. Accumulating evidence implicates the involvement of the gut microbiota in processes relevant to etiopathology (the origins of) of central nervous system-based disorders. . . The concept of psychobiotics, which is bacterial-based interventions with mental health benefit, is emerging in the field.”

“When the gut is stressed, the gut may communicate bad thoughts to the brain that lead to psychiatric illnesses.”

In an earlier study (5) from the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Croatia, a leading institute for this microbiota research, doctors noted the proven existence of bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut. There is an increasing body of evidence which supports the hypothesis that cognitive and emotional processes are influenced through the brain-gut axis.

Dr. Brittany L. Mason, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center wrote this in the journal Psychosomatics (6), about the gut and patients with anorexia nervosa and depression:

“Physical and mental health is dependent on the environment, and feeding (eating disorders) is a prime example of this environmental exchange.  . . (Growing understanding shows) that gut bacteria regulate basic physiologic processes and are implicated in various disease states and contribute to regulation of mood. Responses to stress have effects on feeding behavior and mood and the regulation of the stress response by the gut microbiota could contribute to the dysfunction seen in patients with psychiatric illnesses.

When the gut is stressed, the gut may communicate bad thoughts to the brain that lead to psychiatric illnesses.

Dr. Mason concludes: “Gut microbiota may contribute to dysfunction in psychiatric illnesses. New opportunities to modulate existing gut microbiota using probiotics could be novel targets for clinical interventions.” Probiotics may be the key for certain patients.

Doctors at Oxford University and their colleagues at other universities, released a study (7) entitled: Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals.

Here is a summary of their fascinating findings on how the gut and brain talk to each other.

1.Gut bacteria produce a range of neurotransmitters through the metabolism of indigestible fibers. These include the following with a very simple and general explanation of its influence

dopamine (reward and pleasure)

noradrenalin (alertness and sexual arousal)

GABA Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (low levels linked to anxiety and issues of chronic pain)

serotonin (low levels implicated in depression)

acetylcholine (reward and arousal)

The gut produces the neurotransmitters, the neurotransmitters talk to the brain.

The gut talks to the brain through the metabolization of dietary fiber which produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – a communication link that may control inflammation related to depression

The gut talks to the brain through the metabolization of dietary fiber which produces short-chain fatty acids. These include acetate, butyrate, lactate, and propionate.

Short-chain fatty acids  have been shown to reduce low-grade inflammation.

It is suggested that inflammation plays a role in depression.

Equally high fat diets have been shown to stimulate short-chain fatty acid acetate’s role in triggering the likelihood of obesity and inflammation.

3.The gut produces short-chain fatty acids, the short-chain fatty acids either reduce inflammation and has a positive effect on depression – such as on a high fiber diet – OR -short-chain fatty acids increases inflammation and its negative effects on depression – such as on a high fat diet.

Anti-inflammatory effect – regulation pro-inflammatory cytokine concentrations

It is suggested that pro-inflammatory cytokine concentrations (the inflammation that makes a disease worse) are capable of increasing the permeability of the blood–brain barrier permitting access to the potentially physically and mentally pathogenic entities.

In simplistic terms – the makers of bad thoughts because they can alter and lower levels of serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate (an amino acid involved in mental health). Strains of probiotics Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have been shown to help reduce the total quantity of pro-inflammatory cytokines, either directly or by increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines.

As these researchers point out, there are many complexities to this relationship between the gut and the brain and depression and other health factors. We acknowledge this in the articles below.

If you would like to explore more information, please contact our office so we can start a conversation with you.

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Depression and Cardiovascular Disease: The Clinical Importance of Co-Management

Depression Caused by Chronic Inflammation

The Complexity of Testosterone Deficiency and Depression

Depression and Type 2 Diabetes – They Make Each Other Worse


1 Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Brain-gut-microbiota axis and mental health. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2017 Aug 11.
2 Foster JA, Lyte M, Meyer E, Cryan JF. Gut microbiota and brain function: An evolving field in neuroscience. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015 Oct 4. pii: pyv114. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyv114.
3 Yang Z, Li J, Gui X, Shi X, Bao Z, Han H, Li MD. Updated review of research on the gut microbiota and their relation to depression in animals and human beings. Molecular Psychiatry. 2020 Apr 24:1-4.
4 Rios AC, Maurya PK, Pedrini M, Zeni-Graiff M, Asevedo E, Mansur RB, Wieck A, Grassi-Oliveira R, McIntyre RS, Hayashi MA, Brietzke E. Microbiota abnormalities and the therapeutic potential of probiotics in the treatment of mood disorders. Reviews in the Neurosciences. 2017 May 8.
5 Vlainić J, Šuran J, Vlainić T, Vukorep AL. Probiotics as an adjuvant therapy in major depressive disorder. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2016 May 26. [Epub ahead of print]
6 Mason BL. Feeding Systems and the Gut Microbiome: Gut-Brain Interactions with Relevance to Psychiatric Conditions. Psychosomatics. 2017 Jun 8.
7 Sarkar A, Lehto SM, Harty S, Dinan TG, Cryan JF, Burnet PWJ. Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. Trends in Neurosciences. 2016;39(11):763-781. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002.

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