A study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology suggested that probiotics may be helpful in improving symptoms in patients with depression.

For the study, researchers focused on 44 adults who had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and co-existing anxiety or depression of mild or moderate severity. The participants were observed for a period of 10 weeks, during which half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, and half were given a placebo. At the six-week mark, 64 percent of participants taking the probiotic exhibited lower depression scores, compared to 32 percent of participants given the placebo. Results from a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) analysis showed that improved depression symptoms could be associated to changes in several areas of the brain that are involved in controlling mood.

The study strengthened the link between the gut and the brain, providing evidence that intestinal microbiota is in direct communication with the brain.

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases,” said Dr. Premyl Bercik, the study’s senior author and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University.

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world, affecting the large intestine and causing abdominal pain and extreme bowel movements such as diarrhea and constipation. The condition has been connected to anxiety and depression, with the psychiatric disorders being found in 50 to 90 percent of those who seek treatment for IBS, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“People with IBS frequently suffer from anxiety and depression, which can worsen symptoms. That’s because the colon is in part controlled by the nervous system, which responds to stress. Evidence also suggests that the immune system, also responding to stress, plays a role. IBS can also make you feel more anxious and depressed,” the association said.

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