Psychobiotics may reduce stress, anxiety and insomnia in high pressure jobs, study finds

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: psychobiotics, stress, anxiety, insomnia

A probiotic that promotes benefits to mental health is the finding of a recent study that implicates the gut-brain axis in the reduction of stress, anxiety, and insomnia amongst test subjects.

Writing in the Frontiers in Nutrition​ journal, the Taiwan-based pilot study points to the benefits psychobiotic supplementation has on the high-pressure Information Technology (IT) industry.

The research team believes the Lactobacillus plantarum​ strain (PS128) causes molecules to be released in the gut which travel to the brain possibly causing serotonin and dopamine levels to rise.

“We are very pleased to see these results in people, to verify what we have already seen preclinically,” ​comments Dr Alain Delpy, head of global development at Bened Biomedical, who took part and financially supported the study.

“PS128 really can benefit the high-pressure, high-stress, high-anxiety world we live and work in."

Psychobiotics are a class of probiotics, defined as live microorganisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, induces health benefits in patients with psychiatric illness.

Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety- and depression-like behaviours ameliorate tic-like behaviours and improve visceral hypersensitivity in animals.

Beneficial effects of PS128 on children with autism spectrum disorder, triathletes, and patients with major depressive disorder have also been reported.

PS128’s possible mechanism of action includes altering monoamine neurotransmitter levels, modulating glucocorticoid, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidative responses. However, the underlying mechanisms require more research.

Study details

Along with the scientists from Bened Biomedical, researchers from Taipei’s MacKay Medical College, began enrolling 36 individuals who took PS128 daily for eight weeks.

During this period, measures such as cortisol, dropped significantly during the trial measured via stress biomarkers in participants' saliva.

Participants reported higher energy levels and positive emotions, as well as better life quality and psychological health.

Improvements were seen in insomnia severity, anxiety, job stress, negative emotions, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

"Seeing reduced cortisol levels is probably the most important takeaway from this experiment,"​ adds Dr Allen Wu, who heads Bened's research lab. "It proves that PS128 is causing real changes in the body, changes which can then be experienced and felt by the mind."

Despite the encouraging findings, the team acknowledge that the use of highly stressed IT specialists may be a factor as these subjects may have already had some subclinical psychological burden and thus, “Extension of the generalisability to other occupations may be restricted”.

“Most previous research excluded participants with psychiatric conditions that required clinical attention and included community samples with no or only low levels of anxiety that did not reach clinical diagnosis,”​ the team points out.

Future focus areas

Going forwards the team recommended the carrying out of randomised controlled trials with larger sample sizes, investigations on gut permeability, types of gastrointestinal microbiota and production rates of short chain fatty acids.

This, along with research into brain images looking for functional or structural changes, and other biological markers associated with the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis or inflammation such as cytokines may also help clarify possible mechanism of action of probiotics in highly stressed specialists.

Source: Frontiers in Nutrition

Published online: doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.614105

“Psychobiotic Supplementation of PS128TM Improves Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia in Highly Stressed Information Technology Specialists: A Pilot Study.”

Authors: Shu-I Wu et al

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