Stress and anxiety are two of the most common psychiatric conditions the world over. When under stress for long periods of time, both adults and children are at risk for further health problems. The first line of treatment? Typically, pharmacological therapy aimed at the brain and nervous system. 1 A new, alternative approach is on the horizon, however.
Recent research at the University of Missouri unraveled how a simple probiotic found in yogurt and supplements - Lactobacillus planatrum - can actually impact the health and function of the central nervous system under stress and anxiety.1 But aren't probiotics for digestive health? While the central nervous system and gut may seem to be far removed from each other, notice what the evidence shows.
Researchers examined how probiotics affect adult zebrafish to understand their role in the central nervous systems of stressed humans.
Why zebrafish? This species is often used in neurobehavioral and drug screening studies. Many of their behaviors have been complementary with those behaviors seen in human neurological processes and disorders, including anxiety. Even the neurotransmitter systems found in zebrafish are comparable to those in humans.
The interesting study design included adding the bacteria to certain zebrafish tanks while retaining it from others. Then, both tanks received stressors known to cause high anxiety in zebrafish, such as draining small amounts of water from or overcrowding the tank, changing its temperature, or even isolation of the fish.
The results? Zebrafish that were given the beneficial bacteria supplements had a reduction in stress and anxiety-related metabolic pathways.
Another noteworthy observation came from studying the movements of the zebrafish throughout the tank. Past studies have shown that fish tend to spend more time at the bottom of tanks when stressed. Zebrafish that received the probiotic supplements spent more time toward the top of the tanks. This may indicate they were less stressed and anxious.
The bottom line: We often praise probiotics for their benefits to digestive health. A growing body of evidence is starting to show they can be directly and indirectly beneficial and protective for neurological health as well.
1. Scientific Reports; 6:33726. doi: 10.1038/srep33726
2. Neurotoxicology and teratology 33, 608–617, doi: 10.1016/j.ntt.2011.07.007 (2011).