Probiotics have been featured in health-related news a lot in recent years. Because of this, most people are aware that probiotic bacteria, a term given to the healthful bacteria that inhabits the human gastrointestinal tract, mostly in the intestines, is extremely important not only to digestion but to other important bodily functions like immunity and also the maintenance of a healthy weight.
What might surprise many people – and certainly surprised even researchers in this new study – is that probiotics do not just effect digestion and immunity. They also apparently have an impact on the neurological system, particular on certain cognitive functions. Read on to find out more about this remarkable discovery.
The Newest Research
Scientists behind this new study, coming out of the Geffen School of Medicine, wanted to find out if there was a link between the regular consumption of probiotic-rich foods (or in this case beverages) and cognitive function. In order to discover more about this, the researchers looked at 36 healthy women and divided them into three groups: the first group was given probiotic-enriched milk twice a day, the second group was given milk with no probiotics and the third, control group was given a placebo.
Before this study started, all 36 women underwent extensive testing, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and various cognitive function and emotional tests. At the end of the four week study, they were tested again using the same techniques.
It was found that the women who had drunk the probiotic-enriched milk underwent several significant changes in their cognitive function. Task-related responses were significantly increased and so was midbrain connectivity, meaning that the two hemispheres of the brain were able to communicate more readily with one another and with the rest of the body. There was also more activity noted in the regions of the cortex which handle sensory input. In short, the brains of the women who had consumed the probiotics appeared better connected and more responsive to the environment and to organizing tasks.
How Probiotics and Cognitive Function Are Connected
Researchers believe that the connection between probiotic bacteria and the brain exists due to the connection between the central nervous system (composed of the brain and spinal cord) and the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is a network of nerves located I the abdomen and centered around the digestive tract and the neurotransmitters produced here relay messages via the neurons back to the brain. It is thought that improvements in the gut health can in turn improve the enteric and then the central nervous system.
This study does not only demonstrates yet more proof of the healthful benefits of probiotic bacteria and offer women another reason to include probiotic-rich foods in their diets. It also demonstrates that probiotic benefits go far beyond just improvements in digestion and immunity and it is interesting to speculate about what future research may uncover about probiotics and their positive impact on other organ systems.
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