Food and Behaviour Research

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Psychobiotics can feed gut-brain health axis

Shane Starling

Evidence is building that links the gut microbiome and brain function and ‘psychobiotics’ are at the heart of that, says a leading Irish researcher working in the field for more than five years.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Increasing research is providing support for the proposal that our gut microbes can have a significant impact on brain function (and vice-versa). 

To date, most of this evidence is from animal studies, so caution is still needed in interpreting what this may (or may not) mean for human health and disease.  However, further study of the so-called gut-microbial-brain axis offers huge potential for improving our understanding of how diet and nutrition affect mental health - and could lead to the development of new and better treatments for common developmental and mental health conditions.

The potential use of 'probiotic' or 'prebiotic' supplements is becoming a huge area of interest.  However, given the sheer complexity of the so-called 'gut microbiome', it is worth remembering that natural 'prebiotics' (i.e. substances that support a healthy balance of gut microbes) are found in almost all whole, minimally processed foods - particularly vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains - which provide dietary fibre along with other nutrients.  

This brief news article is based on an interview with Professor John Cryan, who heads one of the leading international research teams in this field.  His current research interests include the neurobiological basis of stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety and drug dependence.

His group is also focused on understanding the interaction between brain, gut & microbiome and how it applies to stress and immune-related disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome and obesity and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. 

For more information see Prof. Cryan's research profile on the UCC website

For the related research article from his group, see:


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Evidence is building that links the gut microbiome and brain function and ‘psychobiotics’ are at the heart of that, says a leading Irish researcher working in the field for more than five years.

It’s really an exciting frontier in medicine right now to try and understand the potential of how the gut microbiome can play a role in brain development and behavior and therefore we might be able to develop novel strategies targeting the gut microbiome, what we call psychiobiotics that may be useful in the treatment of certain mental disorders, said professor John Cryan.

Stress-related disorders like anxiety, depression and irritable bowel syndrome were key study areas along with conditions like autism spectrum disorders, said professor Cryan, chair and head of the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at University College Cork in Ireland. 

Probiotic strains like
Lactobacillus had the potential to affect the gut-brain axis, although much of the research has been animal-based or in vitro. Cryan acknowledged, "to date there is very little clinical evidence."