You come home after a long stressful day and stop in the kitchen for a snack. If you are like most people, you gravitate toward the foods we turn to when we “stress eat.” This form of emotional eating happens when we have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies that causes us to crave foods that are sweet, like chocolate and ice cream, or salty, like potato chips. While there is a biological basis for choosing these foods, eating them doesn’t really help reduce the amount of stress you feel. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t eat your way to more manageable stress.
Despite the fact that your body is telling you to grab a candy bar when you’re stressed out, new research from the University of Cork in Ireland indicates that you should actually be reaching for something completely different, yogurt. The initial findings show that the probiotics in yogurt may help to alleviate stress and decrease the chance of experiencing medical conditions that can be brought on by chronic stress like depression or anxiety.
The intent of this study was to learn more about the effects of probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus on the brain function of mice. The research team had several goals at the start of the study. First, they wanted to establish that probiotic intake could change brain function and behavior in healthy mice. In achieving this first goal, the research team also set the stage for accomplishing the second. By achieving these results with healthy mice the research team showed that the effects are not happening as a result of the immune system or because of hormonal changes, solidifying the concept that there is a direct link between the gut and the central nervous system.
Through the course of the study the team noted that when probiotic bacteria were present in the gut, the behavior and brain chemistry of the mice changed. The mice in the study that were fed the probiotics were more relaxed than their peers who were taking a placebo after only a couple of weeks. They were less anxious, less depressed, and there was a reduction in the amount of cortisol in their brain. The team was also able to show that mice receive a positive benefit from probiotics even if they are not experiencing a gastrointestinal disorder or disease.
What does this all mean for us? Primarily, by establishing the direct link between the gut and the central nervous system, these findings open the door for new types of treatment for a variety of conditions. The team collected data that indicates this link goes through the vagus nerve which is responsible for giving the brain much of the information it needs in order to gauge what it happening with the body and take action.
While there is more research to be done to show the same effects are found in humans, these findings support the use of supplemental probiotics. One of the best ways to include these good bacteria in your diet is yogurt. Here in Arizona, our local dairies supply the good wholesome milk that makes the quality yogurt. Check your local grocery store dairy case for yogurt produced from milk right here in Arizona.