Could a yogurt a day keep the anxiety away?
If you’re a zebrafish, probably. If you’re a human, maybe.
Researchers at the University of Missouri report that, in experiments with zebrafish, “a common probiotic sold in supplements and yogurt can decrease stress-related behavior and anxiety.”
The results, recently published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, show that after being dosed with common probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum zebrafish exposed to stressful conditions showed a reduction in certain gene expressions associated with stress or “fight-or-flight” reactions. In short, beneficial gut bacteria chilled the fish out a bit more than their non-dosed neighbors. Whether these findings will translate to humans (and presumably skyrocketed Dannon stock), the research team hopes the data will “lead to a better understanding of how probiotics may affect the central nervous system in humans.” (Video)
If probiotic supplementation is found to decrease stress, ingesting the helpful bacteria could form yet another piece of the puzzle in improving human longevity. Make no mistake: stress kills. According to a report in Live Science:
Stress causes deterioration in everything from your gums to your heart and can make you more susceptible to illnesses ranging from the common cold to cancer … Besides heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, chronic stress has been linked to ailments as diverse as intestinal problems, gum disease, erectile dysfunction, growth problems and even cancer. One study found that people who experience high amounts of stress at work are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes … Chronic rises in stress hormones have been shown to accelerate the growth of precancerous cells and tumors; they also lower the body’s resistance to HIV and cancer-causing viruses like human papilloma virus (the precursor to cervical cancer in women).
Medical experts have known about the potential benefits of probiotics for decades. Research seems to show that supplying your gut with these handy-dandy microbes could promote weight loss, healthier skin and stronger immunity.
If you decide to stock up on yogurt, keep in mind — all yogurts are not created equally.
Most grocery-chain yogurts are loaded with sugar and lack the good fat we need to stay healthy (yes, fat is good). If, like me, you are following a primal or paleo diet, watch the carb content of your yogurt. If you’re limiting your carbs to maybe 100g/per day; one regular cup of yogurt (with around 20g of carbs) eats away a fifth of your daily carb allowance.
Look, I’m unqualified to hand out nutritional advice. I personally look for high fat Greek yogurt, preferably unflavored. I then have the freedom to add Stevia, honey or fresh fruit to make a tasty treat that suits my unique palate. The other option is to take a probiotic supplement. However, don’t take them with a hot beverage and do keep them refrigerated. Your morning latte can literally scald the good gut microbes to death.
We’ll likely never find a “magic pill” that will instantly grant us longer, happier lives. Transhumanist progress, like most progress, will grow in tiny increments — probiotics may be one small step for healthy guts, leading to a cumulative giant leap for humankind.