Can Yogurt Make You Happier?

January 29, 2016


If cultured yogurt can make a despondent mouse find the will to live, researchers are hoping that someday probiotics could possibly be a substitute for Prozac.

As scientists gain insight into the role of our gut microbiome, they are finding more and more evidence of what’s been termed the “gut-brain axis” and its bidirectional influence. It’s a loop which has shown the brain to act upon gastrointestinal and immune function and, in turn, gut bacteria to produce neuroactive compounds which act upon the brain. Experiments in mice suggest behaviour can change in both positive and negative directions depending upon the type of bacteria that predominates in the gut.

In one such experiment, mice fed food high in probiotics – the bacteria contained in naturally fermented dairy products – were generally more chilled out than the control mice. They were found to have lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, the mouse equivalent of human cortisol. High levels of cortisol in humans is associated with both anxiety and depression.

When these same mice were dropped into tubes of water from which escape was impossible, the probiotic mice kept determinedly swimming after their counterparts had given up (assuredly, no mice were allowed to drown in this experiment).

As reported in a collaborative article last year in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, “Although in its early stages, the emerging field of research focused on the human microbiome suggests an important role for the gut microbiota in influencing brain development, behaviour and mood in humans. The recognition that the gut microbiota interacts bidirectionally with other environmental risk factors, such as diet and stress, suggests promise in the development of interventions targeting the gut microbiota for the prevention and treatment of common mental health disorders.”

Read more about the latest research into the increasingly recognised symbiotic relationship we have with the trillions of microorganism in our bodies, which outnumber our human cells 10 to 1!