The saying ‘you are what you eat’ may apply as much to your mental wellbeing as your physical health, if the results of a recent study are any indication. Though a link between our gut and brain has been suspected for some time, neurologists at Oxford University released research last month that indicates a link between the good bacteria in our stomachs, and feelings of anxiety and depression. The study was the first of its kind conducted with humans.
The news is both illuminating and timely, as many of us are feeling the added weight of long winter nights and residual post-holiday stress. Though the study is only a first step in understanding the effects of probiotics and prebiotics on overall wellness, it’s a promising one, and could bring scientists closer to determining the extent of the connection between bacteria and our brains.
The study tested 45 healthy individuals’ emotional responses to stimuli after three weeks of taking either prebiotics (the dietary fibres consumed by probiotics in our systems) or a placebo. The findings showed that participants who were given prebiotics had decreased levels of cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – and had a lesser reaction to negatively charged information than their counterparts in the placebo group. Instead, they were more prone to focus on positive stimuli, something likely linked to lowered anxiety.
But don’t start investing in prebiotic supplements just yet – the authors of the study reinforced that while their findings are compelling, they have a long way to go before they fully understand what they call the “microbiota-gut-brain axis”. And though prebiotics may be used in the treatment of conditions associated with anxiety and depression, it seems unlikely that they’ll replace conventional methods. Still, though it may be early days in the study of prebiotics and their effect on how our brains work, this is one research area that we’ll be following closely.
Wondering where all these probiotics are actually found?
Both probiotics (good bacteria) and the prebiotics featured in the study above can be found in common foods. Here’s a list of ONE’s top five probiotic foods (that aren’t yogurt).
This Japanese staple is more than a warming way to combat the winter blues. Miso paste, with its combination of fermented soybeans, salt and a fungus, is packed with probiotics. But those aren’t its only benefits! Miso soup can aid in digestion, and is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids. In a soup with vegetables, soba noodles and tofu, it’s a great meal or side – and a healthy one.
It’s not something most people are eager to eat on its own (though we wouldn’t judge), but sauerkraut is another fermented food that offers plenty of probiotics. Add to that the fact that it contains vitamins B, A, E and C, and the shredded and pickled cabbage starts to look miles better than other condiments.
You’ve probably noticed a pattern here: fermentation, the process that promotes the growth of probiotics in food. Like the last two entries, kimchi is fermented and, not unlike sauerkraut, is made of cabbage. But that’s not the only thing in this Korean side dish. Spicy and sour, it contains iron, calcium, beta-carotene and vitamins A, C, B1 and B2 – and that’s in addition to its probiotic punch!
If you’re looking for a good way to incorporate both probiotics and protein into your diet, tempeh might be your new best friend. Originally from Indonesia, tempeh is similar to tofu and miso in that it is made from fermented soybeans, but its earthy texture makes it far more adaptable to different recipes. Whether you bake, sautée, or even fry it, tempeh can be incorporated into almost any dish you can imagine, and up its probiotic content.
One of the most recent foods to ride a wave of publicity due its potential health benefits, kefir is a fermented milk beverage known for its high concentration of good bacteria. The combination of milk and kefir grains contains many of the vitamins and minerals found in regular milk, but is also home to various probiotic bacteria.
*The information presented above is offered for informational and educational purposes and is not intended as a replacement for the judgment of a medical professional, or consultation with qualified practitioners. Information provided by this site is not intended to treat or cure any disease or to offer any specific diagnosis to any individual as we do not give medical advice, nor do we provide medical or diagnostic services.