Probiotics for Anxiety, Bacteria for Food Allergies, and Other Cutting-Edge Research for the Gut
For the science-curious or just the life-curious: Welcome to our new column. We’ll be highlighting some of the coolest, most interesting, pressing, and far-out research. And summarizing the important takeaways. First up: a survey of what’s new in gut health—how the microbiome is intricately related to mental health, allergies, pharmacology, and even athletic performance.
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews (2019)
The most comprehensive meta-analysis of twenty-six studies on probiotics and anxiety was published by researchers at Brown University this year. They found that probiotic supplementation with a combination of Lactobacillus and various other strains led to small but significant improvements in depression and anxiety. This finding opens the door to antidepressant alternatives that could incorporate probiotics and target the gut-brain axis.
Why do people respond to the same drugs differently? A new study by researchers at Yale suggests something interesting is happening behind the curtain. They found that seventy-six types of bacteria from the human gut were able to chemically modify 176 different drugs. Where we might go from here: As researchers learn which aspects of the microbiome affect which drugs, doctors could optimize the prescriptions they write based on the makeup of their patients’ microbiome. This could both improve drug efficacy and reduce unwanted side effects.
Nature Medicine (2019)
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital studied the fecal microbiota of fifty-six children with food allergies, and their findings suggested that gut dysbiosis may be to blame for the allergies. The researchers then identified beneficial bacteria in the guts of ninety-eight healthy children that they believed may be protective against food allergies. Next, they engineered mice to have egg sensitivities. And fed them gut bacteria from healthy children. What they found: The bacteria efficiently regulated the mice’s immune response to eggs. In other words, it protected them from developing an allergy. This could totally change the way we approach food allergies, which might, one day, be routinely treated with certain strains of beneficial probiotics.
Nature Medicine (2019)
Harvard Medical School published a study showing what keeps extremely fit people in tip-top shape: The researchers studied fifteen Boston marathon runners and found that they had more of a certain lactic-acid-loving bacterium called Veillonella than ten nonrunners did, and that the amount of this bacterium increased post-marathon. Separately, when they fed mice Veillonella, the mice became more athletic and ran for significantly longer on a treadmill. This does not mean that consuming Veillonella will increase any random person’s athletic ability (but we like where your head is at). The study does suggest, though, that the microbiome may play a critical role in enhancing athletic performance.