Probiotics Benefit More Than Just the Gut

Probiotics Benefit More Than Just the Gut

Probiotics: A Potential Boost for the Aging Brain

Many people turn to probiotics for their digestive woes, but a preliminary study suggests that what’s good for the gut may also be good for the aging brain. The study involved older adults with mild cognitive impairment, where memory and other thinking skills are starting to slide but people can still carry out their daily tasks. Researchers found that when those individuals took a particular probiotic for three months, their mental abilities improved. And those improvements correlated with specific changes in their gut bacteria.

The gut microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that reside in the gut, play a critical role in digestion and many other bodily functions, including immune defenses, vitamin production, anti-inflammatory compounds, and even chemicals that influence the brain. Recent research has been exploring the links between the gut microbiome and various diseases, like Alzheimer’s – the most common form of dementia. It is believed that certain gut microbiome profiles, such as an abundance of “bad” bacteria or a shortage of “good” ones, might contribute to these diseases.

One recent study found that people with dementia tend to have a gut microbiome that differs from mentally sharp older adults. Another study discovered that even older individuals who do not have dementia symptoms but have early markers of Alzheimer’s in the brain exhibit a distinctive gut microbiome. However, the new study takes a different approach by focusing on older adults with mild cognitive impairment and testing the effects of changing the gut microbiome using the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, or LGG.

The study recruited 169 adults between the ages of 52 and 75 who either had mild cognitive impairment or were cognitively healthy. They were randomly assigned to take either LGG or a placebo every day for three months. The results showed that participants with cognitive impairment displayed a decrease in a specific type of bacteria called Prevotella after taking the probiotic for three months. This shift in gut bacteria correlated with improvements in memory and thinking skills. In contrast, cognitively intact participants showed no such changes.

Although the study is preliminary and requires further research to confirm the findings, experts are optimistic about the potential benefits of probiotics for cognitive function. Robert Vassar, director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, believes the study advances our understanding of the gut microbiome and cognition.

“I think this advances our understanding of the gut microbiome and cognition,” Vassar said.

However, there is still much to learn about the gut-brain connection. Researchers need to identify which interventions are most effective in slowing cognitive decline and determine which individuals would benefit the most from these interventions. The complexity of the dementia process means that the gut microbiome is just one piece of the puzzle.

In the meantime, there are lifestyle factors that individuals can focus on to promote brain health. Following a healthy diet, such as the traditional Mediterranean diet, is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia. This diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruit, fiber-rich grains, fish, and olive oil while limiting red meat and processed foods. Diet can alter the gut microbiome, making it an important factor to consider.

Regular exercise is also linked to a lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. In fact, it is considered one of the strongest protective factors known. The combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise can contribute to overall brain health.

It’s important to note that this study was funded by i-Health, Inc, which manufactures probiotics and other nutritional products. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

While research in this area is still evolving, the potential connection between probiotics, gut health, and brain function is intriguing. As more studies are conducted, we may gain a better understanding of how probiotics can be used to promote brain health, particularly in individuals with mild cognitive impairment.