When you experience stress, especially on a regular basis, gut-brain interactions result in a decrease of inflammasomes—immune compounds that help maintain gut bacterial balance. This is one way stress leads to gut imbalance, or dysbiosis—an imbalance in the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut. Chronic stress is almost the norm in today’s world, however. So how can we minimize the damage to our digestion?

A recent study published in the journal Gastroenterology may hold a clue. The researchers found in an animal model that a probiotic supplement containing Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Streptococcus faecalis reduced the inflammatory effects of stress in the gut. “The effect of stress could be protected with probiotics which reversed the inhibition of the inflammasome,” stated John Kao, MD, lead researcher. “This study reveals an important mechanism for explaining why treating IBS patients with probiotics makes sense.”

Kao noted that additional clinical studies would be needed to determine the proper therapy in humans. “Patients can start living healthier lifestyles to improve their gut microbiota such as adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, and looking for ways to keep stress in check.”

Yet another recent study published in the same journal found that a fermented milk product containing Bifidobacterium lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Lactococcus lactis affected brain communication related to emotion and sensation. This proof-of-concept study was successful in showing that brain activity is affected by probiotics even in healthy women, noted the researchers.

More work is needed to determine how the bacteria induce these changes, and what effects on behavior and mood result. “Identification of the signaling pathways between the microbiota and the brain in humans is needed to solidify our understanding of microbiota gut brain interactions. If confirmed, modulation of the gut flora may provide novel targets for the treatment of patients with abnormal pain and stress responses associated with gut dysbiosis,” they stated.

Interest in the gut-brain connection is greatly increasing. This concept, which was at one time scoffed at by many in mainstream medicine (and likely still is today to some extent), is hitting the limelight. The idea that our overall health is determined by the health of our digestive tract is finally becoming obvious. It is no longer ignorable. I am glad to have been an early proponent of this concept, and as I watch it evolve, I am honored to still be shouting this message from the rooftops. I hope you’ll join me.