Cognitive Disorders and Gut Health

By Lillian So Chan

Strong evidence in many published studies have shown that the gut microbiome plays an important role in controlling complex brain functions, such as those associated with behavior, emotions and cognitive abilities. 

Using probiotic supplementation to counteract dysbiosis and other alterations in gut micro-flora has recently been clinically studied as an effective, alternative approach to prevent cognitive or emotional disorders, both in the healthy population and in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Recently, a randomized, controlled clinical trial was conducted to evaluate the effect of a probiotic in modulating brain activity. 

This study recruited 36 healthy women, assigned to three groups: treated with fermented milk product (FMPP) twice daily for 4 weeks, treated with a non-fermented milk product also twice daily for 4 weeks, or given none of the products. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain response to an emotional faces attention task.

Women supplemented with FMPP showed a significant reduction in the activity of specific brain areas involved in sensory/affective tasks compared to the activation of other brain regulatory areas. These findings support that FMPP supplementation for 4 weeks activated specific areas of the brain involved in the central control of emotion and sensation.

In another study, researchers assessed the effects of probiotics in subjects affected by Alzheimer’s disease. 

Sixty patients with AD were randomly assigned to two groups. One group received 200 ml/day of milk enriched with probiotics for 12 weeks. The other group, the controls, received plain milk in the same amount and frequency for the same duration.

Learning and memory abilities before and after the study period were evaluated through a mini-mental state examination test. Those supplemented with the probiotic showed a significant improvement in their test scores compared to those in the control group. 

Probiotics also counteracted oxidative stress, improved insulin resistance, and decreased blood triglycerides for those in the treatment group as compared to the control group. 

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