For thousands of years, clinicians have observed a connection between the gut, brain, and overall health. Hippocrates is famously quoted as saying “all disease begins in the gut.” This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever experienced gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like diarrhea, indigestion, or abdominal discomfort in response to changes in their emotional state. Studies in both healthy patients and in people with functional bowel disorders have confirmed connections between emotional state and GI function.
The gut and brain communicate through neural, endocrine and immune pathways. It has become increasingly clear that interactions with intestinal microbiota are also an important part of this communication. A number of animal and human studies have examined the relationship between gut bacteria and mood symptoms such as anxiety and depression, leading to the idea that probiotic supplementation may be a potential strategy for reducing or preventing depression.
According to the cognitive theory of depression, an individual's negative and distorted thinking is the basic psychological problem at the root of depressive syndrome. Cognitive reactivity refers to the activation of dysfunctional patterns of thinking triggered by subtle mood changes. This is a key feature in the development and occurrence of depression, and as such would be a relevant target for interventions. Dysfunctional patterns of thinking can include thoughts of hopelessness, thoughts of hurting oneself or others, ruminating on the causes and consequences of anguish, and a general loss of motivation for life. These responses are thought to come from underlying negative thought patterns that get brought to the surface during times of low mood. Cognitive reactivity appears to be a cause of, rather than simply an association with, depression, since higher cognitive reactivity scores precede and predict the onset of depression, even in people with no prior incidence of depression.
Considering the vast potential to treat and prevent mood disorders by improving gut health, the objective of this Dutch study was to determine the effects of a probiotic supplement on cognitive reactivity to sad mood, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety in non-depressed, healthy adults.
Cognitive reactivity, which involves negative thought patterns triggered by mood change, has been shown to predict the onset of depression. Since the brain and gut communicate through several pathways and the gut microbiome has recently been found to influence this communication, it is possible that probiotic supplementation could affect cognitive reactivity. This is what this study set out to test.