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Because overall health depends on a healthy functioning digestive system it is important to discuss what roles bacteria play in the gut.  Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms found everywhere on Earth – in water, soil, plants, and in most every part of your body. True or false: Bacteria in or on your body out number the actual cells of the body by 10 to 1? Not all bacteria are bad, in fact scientists know that even bad bacteria are not a problem just as long as there is enough good bacteria to keep them in check.  The most important thing about good and bad bacteria is that there exists a proper balance. Some examples of good bacteria might be Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria.  Some examples of bad bacteria might be Salmonella, E. Science journalism is an essential medium for keeping the general public well informed about ground breaking and exciting science. Over the past decade, research into the microbial organisms that live in and on human beings has exploded dramatically.
Figure 1~ A quick search for “Microbiome” in scienctific journals online demonstrates how significantly this field of research has been growing over the past ten years [2].
While microbial communities are present in all areas of they human body, the highly complex intestinal microbiome has become one of the core areas of research.
Recently our understanding of the scope of this microbial involvement has taken a surprising turn. This microbiome-gut-brain connection has stirred up public interest as well as scientific curiosity.
In reality, while there is strong preliminary evidence (primarily in rodents) that alterations to or the entire absence of gut microbiota correlates with changes in mood and behavior, there has also been a significant amount of misleading journalism about what scientists really know. Much of the hype surrounding the human microbiome and how it may influence mental health stems from a long standing belief that manipulating the gut microbiota confers positive health benefits to the host. Last December, researchers at Oxford University conducted a trial that tested for emotional and physiological effects of prebiotics on a small group of human volunteers. The researchers gave a group of 45 healthy volunteers (22 male and 23 female) a fructooligosaccharide (FOS), Bimuno®-galactooligosaccharide (B-GOS), or a placebo (maltodextrin) every day for 3 weeks.
In addition, when attention to negative versus positive words was measured, B-GOS supplementation correlated to increased focus on positive stimuli (Figure 3). From this data, the researchers conclude that the B-GOS supplement has similar effects as some anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals, and that prebiotic usage has behavior effects in humans[5]. Perhaps what is most worrisome about this research is that there is a glaring conflict of interest, as a major source of funding came from Clasado Ltd.
To test how the consumption of this probiotic cocktail impacted neurological function, the researchers used a combination of fMRI, which scans and monitors brain activity, and a face-matching attention task. What they found was that the group given the probiotic supplement had a lower amount of activity in several areas of the brain during the experimental task. While the data is very preliminary and provides no direct evidence of a bacterial dependent mechanism for these changes, it is interesting to see in humans what has for sometime been observed in rodents: that the presence or absence of certain bacterial strains in the gut appear to affect the brain.
It is, however, important to note that this study on probiotics shares the same controversy in terms of conflict of interest as the previously-discussed Oxford paper on the effect of prebiotics: it was funded by the Groupe Danone, the makers of Dannon Yogurt. Setting aside a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of these papers or their possible conflicts of interest, it is most interesting to look at how this research has been reported in the media.
For instance, the prebiotics paper has been picked up by multiple news outlets around the world, in one form or another reporting that “some people feeling stressed, anxious or depressed could receive relief by downing probiotics and prebiotics,” or that “[prebiotics] may have an anti-anxiety effect”[4,8].
Of course, the critical viewpoint presented in this piece by no means renders the field meritless. Sign up for our newsletter & get a FREE e-book: The Ethical Girl's GuideTo Being Vegan and Fabulous. In the early days of my veganism, there were only two choices of plant milks – soy or rice.
I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but after pulling the So Delicious Almond Milk Creamers out of the delivery box, I had a hankering of a cup of joe. But in the process of translating complex research into attractive material for general consumption important details and subtleties are often lost. Collectively termed the human microbiota, it is estimated that there are perhaps 10x more microbial than human cells cohabiting our bodies[1].

Scientists have already demonstrated that the gut microbiome is importantly involved in the development of the human immune system, and that abnormalities in microbial diversity are correlated with several inflammatory diseases, as well as colon cancer, diabetes, and obesity [1].
The past few years has seen a significant increase in scientific publications that examine if and how the microbiome may also influence our mood and behavior. The suggestion that our intestinal bacteria are involved in behavior and mood has been particularly marketable, as it is an appealingly simple explanation for depression, anxiety, eating behavior, and even memory.
There are two primary ways of altering the intestinal microbiota, either with probiotics, which are live microorganisms, or prebiotics which are essentially bacterial food sources that cannot be metabolized by the host organism. Looking at two very recent studies that report a link between human intestinal microbiota and the brain we can start to get an idea. The amount of time it took participants to complete that task gave researchers an idea of how much attention volunteers paid to the different types of stimuli. In general, we experience a significant increase in cortisol levels within the first hour of getting up in the morning, theorized to be a physiological means of preparing for anticipated stress during the day [6].
The majority of other emotional tests showed no significant difference in response between the test groups. These are bold claims, and while they openly acknowledge that their findings are preliminary, the suggestion that prebiotic consumption will effect human behavior is simply not conclusive from the correlations they observe.
Brain activity was monitored during a resting state and while subjects performed tasks that had them identify certain emotions in human faces [7]. In particular they note there were noticeable changes in the periaqueductal gray region of the midbrain, a region of the midbrain that is involved in pain regulation[7].
Dannon both funded part of this research as well as provided the probiotic milk product that this trial tested. Though popular articles may describe some of the particulars and vagaries of the research, they seriously misrepresent the correlations and data by presenting preliminary evidence as something close to proven fact.
There is promising evidence that the microbiome is intimately involved in human health, including brain function and behavior.
In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page. The So Delicious Dairy-Free Cultured Almond Milk “yogurts” are creamy, and, well… so delicious!
I didn’t actually have any coffee in the house at the time, so I had to make do with herbal coffee substitute (which is just as good in my opinion!). Because they are 100% plant-based, they area also hormone free, dairy free, egg free, and cholesterol free. She is a Holistic Health Counselor, Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Plant-Based Nutrition Specialist. Unfortunately these losses can result in misleading representations of science, communicating preliminary and correlative data as nearly proven fact.
Scientists have become increasingly interested in studying the human microbiota because these organisms contribute a huge amount of genetic material to the overall human genome.
The idea being that the microbial cultures in our guts are interacting with our nervous systems through the molecules and proteins they secrete. If there is a link between the intestinal microbiota and the brain then pre and probiotics present exciting avenues for psychological therapies. By examining their methods, conclusions, the various interest groups involved, and the accompanying media coverage we can get a sense of both what is known, where the research is headed, and the aspects that have been skewed in the media.
Immediately after waking on the mornings of the first and final days of the trial, participants self-collected samples of saliva. For example, if patients were able to count the number of stars in the same location as the positive stimulus more quickly that those in the location of the neutral stimulus, this indicated that they were more attentive to positive stimuli.
This correlation between prebiotic consumption and lower cortisol levels may demonstrate a connection between the gut microbiome and the human nervous system.
Such a situation is common across industry-funded research, and underlines the persistent tension between financial and academic interests threatening scientific objectivity. Kristen Tillisch an associate professor of medicine at UCLA in 2013, the study involved 36 women given either a milk product supplemented with probiotics, milk without probiotics, or no intervention over the course of 4 weeks.

Forbes magazine wrote that this research showed how “brains of people ingesting a probiotic for four weeks had less activity in brain areas associated with excessive anxiety”[9]. But there is equally clear evidence that media coverage walks far ahead of the scientific work it intends to report, too often condensing preliminary, correlative and complex data into pat headlines. Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Depression, anxiety come from the gut: Surprising new research suggests ‘prebiotics’ can help. Vegan yogurts, creamers, ice creams, and frozen dessert bars were pretty much unheard of back then, so when I find myself in the dairy area of the grocery store, I’m usually in awe of the vegan choices we have now.
These tasty little cups are full of calcium and probiotics, and they make for an excellent breakfast or snack.
Dianne coaches people from across the country to help them improve their health and wellbeing, and she helps people make the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to go vegan. Products may have been given to our contributors free for review, but the opinions expressed on this website belong to the contributors. The genomes of our microbiota, and the way they interact with the human host, are collectively termed the microbiome. Altogether, the accumulating body of scientific literature has provided early glimpses at potential links between our gut bacteria and conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and autism [3]. Subjects were then given a series of emotional processing tasks in which attention to positive versus negative stimuli was measured. Researchers observed that those given prebiotics tended to be less attentive to negative stimuli [5].
The researchers suggest that this correlation may point to prebiotics having an anti-anxiety affect that is similar to existing pharmaceuticals. Fecal samples from the volunteers were analyzed for Bifidobacterium lactis, which was the active probiotic in the supplement, such that potential control subjects were screened to be B. While the general idea is accurate, making the connection to anxiety is still a stretch and grossly oversimplifies the research. The creamers come in original and French vanilla and are the perfect accompaniment to your morning brew.
There are many examples of media distorting or overselling science, but right now there is probably no better example than much of the coverage of research on the human microbiome and how its manipulation might impact human mental health.
The fundamental hypothesis that is driving, and increasingly validated by, human microbiome research is that all of this microbial activity adds up to a significant impact on human physiology.  More and more we are developing an understanding of what kinds of microbes are living where, and how they are intimately involved in human health and disease. The likely end result is the degradation of public trust in the integrity and validity of scientific research. They recently launched two new tasty almond milk products, and they were kind enough to send me some to try. They come in five flavors: plain, blueberry, strawberry, vanilla, and my personal favorite – chocolate. They’re gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free, and a much healthier alternative to cow’s milk creamer.
Through the group she hosts monthly potlucks, runs charity bake sales and organizers guest speaker events.
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