Probiotics are beneficial to your health

What are probiotics?

Your body contains up to 10x more bacteria than it does human cells. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial to health. Via effects on the microbiome and on the human body itself, probiotics may impact every facet of health.

Exponential growth in human microbiome research has evolved our understanding of gut microbiome, probiotics and the breadth of health conditions they influence. An imbalance in the gut microbiome, is linked to numerous diseases, both within the gut and systemically.

Gut microbiome composition – trillions of native, commensal bacteria

2016 research estimates the human microbiome to be made up of approximately 38 trillion organisms, the majority of which exist within the gastrointestinal tract. These organisims are commonly referred to as ‘commensals’ (meaning non-harmful) with over one thousand species currently identified, and many thousands of genetically unique strains; highlighting the diversity and breadth of the microbiome pool.

Rebuild rather than replace – a new understanding of the probiotic impact in the gut

Over the past 10 years it has become clear that some probiotic strains have more health benefits and a broader range of benefits than others. New research shows that some probiotics modulate the quantity, diversity (composition) and function of other bacteria, i.e. the commensal bacteria native to the human gut.

These super strains catalyse the rebuilding of depleted gut microbes that need to be present in significant numbers to form a healthy gut microbiome. In addition, these influential probiotic strains enhance the overall metabolic function of the microbiome. Enhanced function is critical for positive patient results over time, as new science indicates that the function of these live organisms may actually be more important than the quantity of/or diversity (composition) of the microbiome.

The composition of the human gut microbiome

Beyond the gut microbiome

Evidence demonstrates that effective probiotics also improve host functions such as aiding gut barrier integrity, favourably modulating the immune system and positively interacting with the enteric nervous system resulting in clinical benefits to the patient.

Brain training has no effect on decision-making

 

Increased preference for immediate over delayed and for risky over certain rewards has been associated with unhealthy behavioural choices.

Motivated by evidence that enhanced cognitive control can shift choice behaviour away from immediate and risky rewards, we tested whether training executive cognitive function could influence choice behaviour and brain responses. In this randomized controlled trial, 128 young adults (71 male, 57 female) participated in 10 weeks of training with either a commercial web-based cognitive training program or web-based video games that do not specifically target executive function or adapt the level of difficulty throughout training.

Pre and post training, participants completed cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of validated decision-making tasks: delay discounting (choices between smaller rewards now vs. larger rewards in the future) and risk sensitivity (choices between larger riskier rewards vs. smaller certain rewards). Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no evidence that cognitive training influences neural activity during decision-making, nor did we find effects of cognitive training on measures of delay discounting or risk sensitivity.

Participants in the commercial training condition improved with practice on the specific tasks they performed during training, but participants in both conditions showed similar improvement on standardized cognitive measures over time. Moreover, the degree of improvement was comparable to that observed in individuals who were reassessed without any training whatsoever. Commercial adaptive cognitive training appears to have no benefits in healthy young adults above those of standard video games for measures of brain activity, choice behaviour, or cognitive performance.

Significance statement

Engagement of neural regions and circuits important in executive cognitive function can bias behavioral choices away from immediate rewards. Activity in these regions may be enhanced through adaptive cognitive training. Commercial brain training programs claim to improve a broad range of mental processes; however, evidence for transfer beyond trained tasks is mixed. We undertook the first randomised controlled trial of the effects of commercial adaptive cognitive training  on neural activity and decision-making in young adults, compared to an active control (playing online video games). We found no evidence for relative benefits of cognitive training with respect to changes in decision-making behaviour or brain response, or for cognitive task performance beyond those specifically trained.

Reference:

Kable, J. et al., No Effect of Commercial Cognitive Training on Neural Activity During Decision-MakingJournal of Neuroscience, 2017. p. 2832-16.

Brain scans shows stress can sabotage your diet

As anyone who has ever downed a litre of ice cream after a bad day at the office knows, the stresses of everyday life can sabotage self-control when it comes to diet. But why?

When people are under stress, even at modest levels, tasty food wins out over healthier options because the brain’s signal for taste is “louder” than the intention to eat healthy, according to a new study published in the journal Neuron.

The small neuroscience study of 51 people asked them to choose between foods while they had fMRI brain scans, to see how the decision-making process affected their brains.

Participants were chosen because they expressed interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle but admitted they sometimes made unhealthy food choices. Researchers aimed to assess how moderate levels of stress, like those encountered in daily life, would affect what people choose to eat, especially when the options were real and not hypothetical; the participants had to eat one of the foods they selected following the test.

Researchers approached the study with the idea that a delicious but less healthy food was an immediate reward, whereas a healthier food is a long-term reward because while it may not be as enjoyable to eat now, it benefits lifetime wellness.

Before they began, the participants were asked to rank the foods as tasty or healthy so that researchers knew their individual taste preferences and could make contrasting pairs based on those rankings.

Then participants were split into two groups: 29 of them were put under the mild stress of having to submerge their hand in an ice-water bath while being videotaped in the lab before the test; the other 22 were the control group.

Brain activity was monitored in an fMRI machine while participants were shown pairs of pictures of different foods and asked to choose between them. In some cases, the healthier food was outlined in a white frame to indicate that it was “recommended,” to see if participants would be more likely to choose it.

fMRI image shows areas of the ventral striatum (upper) and amygdala (lower). Stressed participants’ food choices were more affected by short-term taste reward and they encoded taste more strongly in portions of the amygdala and ventral striatum.

The fMRI images showed three different regions of the brain were activated and the relationships between the regions changed during the time participants had to select foods.

Those who experienced the stress of the ice-water bath went for the tasty food choices more often than healthy ones, especially when the difference between the foods was greatest.

“Stress participants are struggling most and are most likely to fail when their temptation gets really, really high in terms of taste,” said Maier. “If two items are rather close together in terms of taste, then they would rather go with the healthier one.”

Current theories connect cortisol, a hormone which increases with stress, to the problem of stress eating. In this study, it showed only a partial link to food choices for people who were part of the stress group.

The way to get around this wiring for choosing what tastes good over what’s healthier, is planning. If you know you have a stressful day and you come home, sooner or later you will make the trip to your kitchen cupboard and get that snack. Instead, you can just not buy it in the first place and not tempt yourself.

Reference:

Maier, S. U., et al., Acute Stress Impairs Self-Control in Goal-Directed Choice by Altering Multiple Functional Connections within the Brain’s Decision Circuits. Neuron, 2015. 87 (3): p. 621-31.


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