- The health of your brain is closely related to the health of your gut.
- Research has shown that taking probiotics can help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly.
- It can also help young adults perform better when they’re stressed.
Scientists already know this probiotic supplements shows promise in helping gut health conditions like IBS and gastrointestinal upset after taking antibiotics.
Scientists now believe they may also slow cognitive decline as we age, says Jessica Eastwood, a nutritional psychology researcher at the Department of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading in England.
In young people, Eastwood told Insider, probiotics can even help people function better when they’re stressed.
“The microbes in your gut can affect your health in so many different ways,” Eastwood said.
Here are some things we know about probiotics and brain health.
Your gut and brain are intimately connected
Your gut and brain are closely linked, a partnership known as “gut-brain axis“.
What affects the brain can also affect the gut and vice versa. That’s why you can get butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, Eastwood said.
The connection is so strong that flare-ups of GI conditions like IBS or Crohn’s disease can trigger mental health issues like depression or anxiety, according to Harvard Health.
Scientists are still not sure how these two systems work together. “Understanding exactly how these bugs in your gut affect your brain is still a bit of an unknown,” Eastwood said.
Probiotics may prevent natural cognitive decline
As we age, our cognitive function, which includes memory and executive function, naturally declines.
Eastwood and his team published a 2021 revision which found that taking a probiotic daily could reduce cognitive decline in otherwise healthy older adults.
“Taking probiotic supplements can be particularly helpful just to help mitigate that natural decline and maintain cognitive function longer,” Eastwood said. Eastwood said it could be particularly beneficial because people keep doing it live longer.
The review also found that daily probiotics may help improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
While these findings are exciting, Eastwood said bigger and better research trials are needed.
A recent study presented at the American Society for Nutrition A meeting in July this year found that older adults who took probiotics had cognitive improvements compared to those who took a placebo.
Probiotics can also help reduce stress
Probiotics typically don’t boost cognitive performance in young people because “they’re already working at a ceiling,” Eastwood said. But “where you see an effect in younger adults is when they’re stressed.”
Sometimes, Eastwood says, if you’re stressed, your cognitive performance declines. But in the same 2021 review, “we find that if you take probiotics, you get this buffering effect, so it reduces that decline.”
In other words, taking a probiotic may help maintain normal cognitive function despite stress.
“In young adults who are taking exams or going through a particularly stressful time, it can be of some benefit,” Eastwood said.
In most studies on probiotics, people took them daily for four weeks to six months, Eastwood said. In 2019 study, Women aged 18 to 40 who took probiotics daily for 28 days performed better on stressful tasks than those who took a placebo.
We still don’t know which strains are the best
Because probiotics research is still in its early stages, we don’t yet know which probiotic strains may be most beneficial for cognitive function.
If you’re interested in trying a probiotic, Eastwood recommends a multivitamin probiotic that contains a combination of the most researched strains, including lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and lactococcal species.
And like any new supplement, you should check with your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you to take.
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