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'Psychobiotics' wiggle into lexicon

Meta-analysis finds promise in probiotics for stress-related disorders.

While it didn’t quite make Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2014 (it’s “culture,” by the way), “psychobiotics” is making its way into the healthy living lexicon. Authors of a review of studies about the potential for probiotics to treat depression and other stress-related disorders define psychobiotics as “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.”

Timothy Dinan and a team of researchers from University College Cork in Ireland conducted the review, which was published in Biological Psychiatry. Though they found few human studies, those they analyzed were promising, according to an Elsevier release about their work. One study found improved mood in subjects who consumed probiotics. Another month-long, placebo-controlled study found subjects who consumed probiotics had lower stress levels.

Dinan and his team found that found that "the intestinal microbial balance may alter the regulation of inflammatory responses and in so doing, may be involved in the modulation of mood and behavior."

“Evidence is emerging of benefits in alleviating symptoms of depression and in chronic fatigue syndrome,” the authors write in their abstract. “Such benefits may be related to the anti-inflammatory actions of certain psychobiotics and a capacity to reduce hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity. Results from large scale placebo-controlled studies are awaited.”

Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, said in the release that "this intriguing new area of research may open new possibilities for the treatment of depression."

Psychobiotics made it to the Huffington Post this fall, in a story about how probiotics could help kids become better students via the microbiota gut-brain axis. Also this fall, NPR released an animated Disney-esque telling of the power of probiotics.

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