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Probiotics could help relieve stress
June 24, 2018, 2:36 pm

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder in the US say they may have found a type of ‘good’ bacterium that could protect the brain against the harmful effects of stress. If confirmed, the results could lead to probiotic-based treatments that enable us to ‘immunize’ against stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety.

Previous studies have shown that the absence of certain beneficial microbes could lead to mood disturbances and that stress could harm gut health just as much as eating junk food. There is also robust research literature that reveal how trauma can render certain brain areas more sensitive to upcoming stress making them more likely to respond to stressors with inflammation. A link between inflammation in the brain and stress-related mood disorders can be evidenced, for instance, by the feelings of depression and anxiety that accompanies a bout of flu.

Researchers now say they have uncovered a beneficial bacterium that has anti-inflammatory properties which could be harnessed to stave off stress. In a previous study at the same university it was shown that mice injected with a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae were less anxious when confronted with a dangerous situation and less likely to develop inflammation or colitis.

Following up on this, the new research team set out to investigate the precise neurological effects of M. vaccae. The researchers injected the bacterium in male rodents three times, once each week. Eight days after the last injection, the researchers found increased levels of an anti-inflammatory protein called interleukin-4 in the rodents’ brain region responsible for processing feelings and which regulates anxiety or fear responses.

In addition to higher levels of interleukin-4, the researchers also found low levels of an ‘alarmin’, or stress-induced protein and higher levels of a receptor whose main role is to preserve the anti-inflammatory properties of the brain’s immune cells.

In short, the researchers found that Mycobacterium vaccae shifts the environment in the brain toward an anti-inflammatory state. The findings reveal the link between probiotics and mood disorders and, if this could be replicated through clinical trials in people, it could have broad implications for several neuroinflammatory diseases, said the researchers. 

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