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Psychobiotics with Scott Anderson

We spoke to Scott Anderson about gut health, and his groundbreaking book—The Psychobiotic Revolution.

Heights
Heights
July 11, 2021
4 min read

A little while back, we released some rather exciting news. We at Heights are about to release our second product, a psychobiotic that aims to do for your gut what the smart supplement does for your brain. Pretty neat, right?

On this episode of the Braincare podcast, Dan spoke to the godfather of psychobiotics, Scott Anderson. His book, The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection, lays the groundwork for the new, and potentially game-changing field of psychobiotics, and here he shares his research on these beneficial bacteria, along with genetics, mental health, and how you can incorporate these findings into everyday life.

You can listen to the episode in full here.

What are psychobiotics?

Let’s start with the basics—psychobiotics are anything that works with the gut to help improve mood and reduce levels of depression or anxiety.

What this looks like in practice is a combination of pre- and probiotics (you can get the lowdown on the difference here, designed to work together to encourage the growth and proliferation of healthy bacteria in your gut. This then has a positive impact on your mental health. When put like that, it doesn’t seem too complicated.

They were looking at where the depression could be overturned with different kinds of bacteria, and those bacteria that improve mood are called psychobiotics.

Of course, some specific diets already provide all the psychobiotics required, but there are also a slowly growing number of psychobiotic supplements you can take to augment your natural intake.

The science behind psychobiotics

Scott’s book, coauthored with John F Cryan and Ted Dinan, is one of the first major works in the field of psychobiotics. As a subject, it’s still in its early stages, but the studies so far have suggested that psychological behaviour in mammals can be affected by the gut biome. 

There is also research to suggest that the gut-brain axis can have an affect on mental health. As many as 70% of people with depression also have some form of gut issue. This isn’t always the easiest thing to picture, but there are certain connections between the brain and the gut that we have long accepted. Just think about the effect stress can have on appetite and digestion. Suddenly that connection feels more real.

Mental health is also a fairly young field of study. There’s still a lot we don’t know about illnesses such as depression, including what causes them. There are various theories, ranging from genetics, to societal cues, to chemical imbalances, to gut health. Most likely, the answer is that all of these affect mental health, so it’s important to cover as many bases as we can, where we can. That’s one of the things that makes research into psychobiotics so exciting.

Why take psychobiotics?

We’re no strangers to mental health issues, and we think it’s really important to discuss them openly. Rates of depression diagnoses have been soaring, to the point that the illness is now the number one cause of disability in the world.

Treatments exist for depression but they are famously hit-and-miss. For many people, the SSRI class of antidepressants (which includes fluoxetine, sertraline, and citalopram) provides excellent treatment, but for others, they exacerbate problems. Similarly certain people find cognitive behavioural therapy helpful, others do not. It’s unlikely that psychobiotics proves a silver bullet, but it can be an important part of the toolbox, and one without the side effects often experienced by people on traditional antidepressants. 

What we're finding, whether you're just substituting [antidepressants] or taking psychobiotics adjunctively, is that they are proving to be very valuable in practice.

Psychobiotics in your diet

Theoretically, you can get all the psychobiotics you need from your diet. Scott, for example, aims to stick closely to the Mediterranean diet, which should provide a good amount of pre- and probiotics. But the issue is that a standard Western diet has been engineered to be about as bad for your gut health as possible. And it all comes down to one thing. Fibre.

For decades, food manufacturers have been trying to remove as much fibre as possible from our food, offering the whitest bread, the softest cakes. But fibre is vital for our gut health. We should really be eating at least 30g of fibre a day, although some traditional diets in east Africa include up to 50g a day. In the west, that level of fibre is hard to get without supplementation.

We also spoke to Scott about prebiotics and probiotics—listen to the full podcast now, or check out the Q&A.

Learn more about the gut-brain axis, and see why it’s a topic that’s close to our co-founder Joel’s heart (and gut).

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