You’ve probably heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” It’s also said that our memories make us who we are.
These two assumptions may be more relevant and connected than ever. There is a growing amount of research on the gut-brain axis that suggests that ‘what’ we eat (and how it’s metabolized) may have a lot to do with ‘who’ we are, in memory at least.
This newer field of research seeks to understand the relationship and significance between what we eat, how the gut processes it, and the health of our brains. This isn’t entirely a matter of healthy eating either. It’s what happens during digestion that researchers are really interested in learning more about.
Gut microbes may stand as ‘gatekeepers’ between what actually makes it across to the brain (and in what form). This axis may ultimately prove to be determinant in the functions of healthy memory, learning, and cognition.
Probiotics and Memory: Evidence of the Gut-brain Axis?
It’s essential to have a healthy balance of probiotic microbes, but usually, that’s said for the sake of digestion. Now we know probiotics may be crucial to help get the brain all it needs.
For healthy people, but especially in the case of those with genetic risk factors (e.g., Alzheimer’s), it’s reported that memory may be regulated through probiotic activities. Particularly of interest are lactobacilli strains of bacteria.
Per their name, this family of bacteria is largely responsible for producing the chemical known as lactate. Our bodies also produce lactate during metabolism and exercise, and as it turns out, it may have an essential role in learning and long-term memory.
Probiotics and Cognition
One recent study evaluated memory improvements in mice with genetically poor memory. Increased lactate in the brain was found to reduce memory impairment. More importantly, this finding was produced directly by probiotic supplementation of lactobacilli, an example of groundbreaking evidence that what happens in the gut may cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
One benefit of lactate is that it may fuel neuronal growth. Since brain cells may use it as an alternative energy source, it can support memory and learning. Also, like exercise, where lactate from muscles enters the brain and releases ‘Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor’ (BDNF), probiotic-lactate may do the same.
Neuroprotective Compounds and Gut-health
It’s known that BDNF may be a potent neuroprotectant. So besides a core energy source for neurons – fueling memory and learning – we see how increased lactate from probiotics may help shield against cognitive decline. Similarly, lactate from probiotic supplementation may also increase levels of GABA in the brain.
GABA is an amino acid with great value to memory and learning, as well as regulatory purposes in the brain. Also found in matcha green tea, it may protect against overexcitement and cognitive symptoms like anxiety.
The Future of Gut-brain Axis Research
Researchers aren’t sure yet whether probiotics are producing more GABA or if lactate is encouraging the body to release more of its own. Nevertheless, it’s exciting how these neurochemicals elevate working memory -- especially how probiotics are now associated with increasing levels.
Recent genetic modeling supports probiotic supplementation as one means to positively influence developmental and cognitive disorders. Researchers are set on future studies to better understand the extensive considerations of the gut-brain axis, especially since this research may translate to human results.
The Bottom Line
Correlations between higher levels of several metabolites, including lactate, GABA, and BDNF, demonstrate the importance of gut-brain axis research. Probiotic supplementation will likely remain a candidate to promote healthy memory and learning, including against chronic cognitive conditions.
Taken together, these supplements provide new evidence for a link between gut health and memory, possibly yielding a path to future treatment options against cognitive diseases, as well as new understandings between the food you eat, your microbiome, and your cognitive health.
Ultimately, it’s intriguing how health may require balance in the gut to best feed your brain. Specific antibiotic treatments or lifestyle factors may contribute towards imbalance (dysbiosis), where people affected may be losing on critical neurochemicals.
While there’s no proven method for gut health, there is good reason to take promise in naturally fermented foods, a whole-food diet, and wise choices made alongside your physician regarding supplementation or other concerns.
If you’re worried about your gut-brain axis, try to relax. Check your local health food store for naturally fermented foods, and stay tuned for future research.
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Disclaimer: These statements in this blog post have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
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