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Probiotics, prebiotics and cognitive health 

Though communication between brain and gut was realized in the middle of the nineteenth century, gut micro-organisms have not been considered important for brain health until recently. A variety of mechanisms are proposed by which bacteria can signal to the brain through metabolic, neuroendocrine and immune pathways [1]. Considering that microbes can influence brain functioning, the use of bacteria as alternative therapeutic option to treat cognitive disorders has gained much interest. Understanding the gut microbiota and its activities is essential for the generation of future healthcare strategies. 

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The gut microbiota

The average human has over 100 trillion microbes in and on their body, and most of these microbes are located in the gut. It has become clear that the gut microbiota plays a key role in human health and disease. The intestinal microbiota provides the host with a physical barrier against pathogens and allergens and influences metabolic, nutritional, physiological and immunological processes. A lot of research has been conducted on the differences in microbial composition of healthy and sick people. Currently, over 25 diseases have been related to differences in the microbiota, of which most are linked to reduced diversity in the gut microbiota [2]. 




Although, most evidence comes from mice studies, several human trials have been performed that show potential for probiotics to influence cognitive health. For example, it has been found that there are differences in bacterial composition between healthy people and people with depression, [3-5] autism [6,7] and schizophrenia [8,9].   Various studies have shown that patients suffering from stress experience less stress after taking probiotics [10,11]. Recent review studies suggest that probiotics may have an effect on depression symptoms, but also indicate that much more research is needed to understand the exact working mechanisms [12,13].  

A recent review summarizes the finding of current research on the effect of probiotic and prebiotic administration on specific neurological disorders [14]. In this review the Steenbergen trial is also included [15]. You can read the review by clicking on the read more button at the end of the page.



COPY Healthy elderly have a young gut microbiota_1226

The gut microbiota–brain axis.

The central part of the figure shows the bidirectional influence between the brain and gut microbiota. The left side of this figure shows modes of communication in the bidirectional crosstalk between gut microbiota and the brain and the possible influences of prebiotics and probiotics on human diseases. The right side of the figure shows the consequences of gut dysbiosis.

Source Nutrients: Probiotic, prebiotic and brain development. 



From all this research it is without doubt that gut bacteria influence behaviour and feeling in people, however, the mechanisms are not completely clear yet. Several communication routes from the gut to the brain are possible: via the immune system, via substances that make and secrete the bacteria, via hormones and / or via the nervous system. Which routes and types of bacteria are most important is still unknown. Until then, it does not hurt to treat the bacteria in your gut well by eating a healthy and varied diet or using probiotics.

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1.       De Vos et al. Role of the intestinal microbiome in health and disease: from correlation to causation. Nutrition Rev. 2012; 70:S45-56.

2.       Vuong, H.; Yano, J.; Fung, T.; Hsiao, E. The microbiome and host behavior. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 2017, 40, 21–49.

3.       Kelly, J.R., et al., Transferring the blues: Depression-associated gut microbiota induces neurobehavioural changes in the rat. J Psychiatr Res, 2016. 82: p. 109-18.

4.       Jiang, H., et al., Altered fecal microbiota composition in patients with major depressive disorder. Brain Behav Immun, 2015. 48: p. 186-94.

5.       Naseribafrouei, A., et al., Correlation between the human fecal microbiota and depression. Neurogastroenterol Motil, 2014. 26(8): p. 1155-62.

6.       Berding, K. and S.M. Donovan, Microbiome and nutrition in autism spectrum disorder: current knowledge and research needs. Nutr Rev, 2016. 74(12): p. 723-736.

7.       Kraneveld, A.D., et al., Gut-to-Brain Axis in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Central Role for the Microbiome. Int Rev Neurobiol, 2016. 131: p. 263-287.

8.       Dickerson, F., E. Severance, and R. Yolken, The microbiome, immunity, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Brain Behav Immun, 2016.

9.       Nemani, K., et al., Schizophrenia and the gut-brain axis. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 2015. 56: p. 155-60.

10.   Andersson, H., et al., Oral Administration of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v Reduces Cortisol Levels in Human Saliva during Examination Induced Stress: A Randomized, Double-Blind Controlled Trial. Int J Microbiol, 2016. 2016: p. 8469018.

11.   Moller, C.M., et al., Influence of acute multi-species and multi-strain probiotic supplementation on cardiovascular function and reactivity to psychological stress in young adults: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Psychosom Med, 2017.

12.   Wallace, C.J. and R. Milev, The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. Ann Gen Psychiatry, 2017. 16: p. 14.

13.   Huang, R., K. Wang, and J. Hu, Effect of Probiotics on Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 2016. 8(8).

14.   Cerdó T, Ruíz A, Suárez A, Campoy C. Probiotic, Prebiotic, and Brain Development. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 14;9(11).

15.   Steenbergen, L., et al., A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain Behav Immun, 2015. 48: p. 258-64.




Probiotics, prebiotics and cognitive health.

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