probiotic yogurt in a jar with antioxidant blueberries

The Brain Benefits of Probiotics

Donna Moxley
This content originally appeared on 

Organisms found in foods like yogurt show promise in altering mood, stress, and pain sensitivity.

We know that consuming probiotics can help with digestion, but a recent study has given weight to the idea that probiotics may also change the way we process emotions.

Probiotics & the Gut-Brain Connection

The UCLA researchers who published the study found that women who ate yogurt with probiotics for a month displayed altered resting brain activity and changed responses to emotional tasks.

“Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment,” said Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, of UCLA’s School of Medicine, following release of the study in the journal Gastroenterology. “When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on a new meaning.”

Dr. Tillisch said the study indicated the “gut-brain connection is a two-way street.”

How Do Probiotics Benefit Your Brain?

Well, during the monthlong study, 36 women ate either yogurt with live probiotic cultures twice a day, a dairy product with no living bacteria, or no dairy products. Each woman was given a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan both before the study and after. Their brains were studied first at rest, then while performing an “emotional faces attention task” (they were matching pictures of angry or fearful faces).

The scans showed that women who ate the probiotic yogurt twice daily had less activity in the parts of the brain that get and integrate sensory information. There was also less activity in the parts of the brain that handle cognition and emotion.

While the study confirmed a scientific concept about the mind-body connection, it also proved that the brain doesn’t just send signals to the gut, the gut also communicates with the brain.

More study is needed to show how the probiotics work on the mind’s function and how they may be used to relieve chronic pain or emotional problems.

Click to See Our Sources

“Changing Gut Bacteria Through Diet Affects Brain Function...” by Rachel Champeau, UCLA News, 5/28/13

“Mood-Altering Yogurt? Probiotics Change Brain Function With Gut Bacteria,” by Ashik Siddique, 5/28/13