The addition of beneficial microbes has been found to benefit people struggling with serious gut diseases, including necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which often occurs in premature infants and can be fatal. An Australian study revealed that probiotic supplementation significantly reduced NEC risk and mortality in preterm neonates, lowering the incidence of NEC in premature babies by at least 30 percent.
Probiotics have also been found to benefit irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), of which disturbances in the gut microbiota are often seen. Compared to placebo, probiotic therapy was found to reduce pain and symptom severity among people with IBS, and probiotics are also known to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children.
On the mental front, a small study involving adults diagnosed with IBS and depression found the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum provided depression relief. At six weeks, 64 percent of the treatment group had reduced depression scores compared to 32 percent of the control group that received a placebo.
Those receiving the probiotic also reported fewer symptoms of IBS and improved overall quality of life. At the end of 10 weeks, approximately twice as many in the treatment group were still reporting lower levels of depression.
Interestingly, functional MRI scans revealed a link between reductions in depression score and actual changes in brain activity, specifically in areas involved in mood regulation, such as the amygdala. As noted by Dr. Roger McIntyre, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study.