Researchers are continually looking at how foods – and the components within foods – impact health, both in disease states and in healthy populations. Often, when a food ingredient is believed to have a biological effect, the research team uses animal models.
A team from the University of Virginia School of Medicine looked at how a naturally occurring probiotic found in yogurt affected depressive symptoms in mice. And yes, some animal species can also suffer a form of depression.
According to a press release, the team found a correlation between depression symptom reversal and consumption of lactobacillus, found in yogurt. In addition, the team has discovered a specific way that the bacteria affect mood, which illuminates a direct connection between the health of the gut microbiome and mental health.
Based on their results, the researchers believe that the same effect can occur in humans and are planning to confirm these findings in patients with depression.
Lead researcher Alban Gaultier, PhD,of the UVA Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, wanted to find a link between depression and gut health. He and his research team looked at the composition of the gut microbiome before and after stress inducement, and noted the loss of lactobacillus, which correlated with onset of depression symptoms. Then, the team fed the mice lactobacillus, after which they showed significant recovery. “A single strain of Lactobacillus is able to influence mood,” he stated.
In their quest to find out how Lactobacillus influences depression, Dr. Gaultier and his researchers found that the amount of Lactobacillus in the gut influences blood levels of kynurenine, a metabolite that has been shown to generate symptoms of depression. When Lactobacillus levels were low in the gut microbiome, the levels of kynurenine were correspondingly higher – and depression symptoms set in.
Many yogurts have high levels of naturally occurring Lactobacillus. Yogurt products continue to proliferate on store shelves, but we recommend going the more natural route, without all the artificial flavors, and high-calorie “extras.” Mix or blend plain or vanilla yogurt with fresh fruits, nuts and seeds for a wholesome, nutrient-dense breakfast.
(Gaultier, Marin, et al. Scientific Reports, March 2017.)