An article published in the journal “General Psychiatry” reports the results of a research on the positive effects of the regulation of gut microbiota in alleviating anxiety problems. A team of researchers from the Shanghai Mental Health Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine examined 21 studies that involved a total of 1,503 people and found that in most cases there were improvements thanks to interventions to regulate gut microbiota, in some cases based on the addition of probiotic supplements and in other cases with even better results with adjustments to the daily diet.
Gut microbiota, still informally called gut flora even if the expression is not correct, has become the subject of important studies in recent years. It’s the community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and it’s mainly bacteria, which are not classified as plants anymore and therefore are not flora, but also fungi and viruses. Normally they live in symbiosis with their hosts, contributing to digestion in various ways by demolishing some parts of certain foods and generating some substances that end up in the blood and are useful for the body.
These recent studies are highlighting the importance of gut microbiota in their host’s health, also because remarkable nerve connections between gut and brain have been discovered. Even certain popular expressions concerning our guts and their connection with our emotions are finding scientific explanations.
These discoveries led among other things to the spread of the so-called probiotics, supplements that contain bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Streptococcus thermophilus (Photos ©Bob Blaylock), among the species useful to make our intestines work well. Like the classic supplements containing minerals and vitamins, there are discussions about their real usefulness but the study conducted by the Shanghai Mental Health Center team seems to confirm it at least in part and above all shows the importance of a balanced diet.
This study put together the results of 21 previous studies in which there were interventions to regulate gut microbiota. In 14 of these studies this was done by taking probiotics, in the other 7 studies other methods were used based on diet adjustment. In 11 of the 21 studies, more than half of the people involved showed a positive effect in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, but diet adjustments had better effects than taking probiotics.
The various studies form a fairly heterogeneous picture because in the ones based on taking probiotics the number of types of probiotics varied from one to three. This means that it’s important to assess which species of probiotic bacteria work well together and if there are others that could risk damaging each other.
Regarding the effectiveness of a diet change, the researchers hypothesized that this leads to a different energy source that can have an impact on gut microbiota greater than the addition of other probiotic bacteria.
The researchers recognize the limitations of analyzing heterogeneous studies, however there’s a trend that indicates positive results from taking probiotics and even more from a balanced diet. Other studies are needed to better understand the effects of those changes, including the assessment of individual responses.
There’s certainly still a lot to do to understand the possibilities of regulating gut microbiota and the influence that this can have on anxiety and also in other ways on the host’s mind. It’s not a universal remedy that can replace any medical treatment but in minor cases it can bring significant health improvements.