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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Psychobiotics and the dark chocolate connection . . .

There has been a fair amount of interest regarding neurotransmitters in the medical community, but treatment for depleted neurotransmitters has remained a mystery.  Nutritional supplements have been the first line of treatment with dubious results and psychoactive medications have been prescribed for decades with little to no benefit.  Neurotransmitters are those chemical messengers in our body that modulate all the functions of our body and mind.  The table below provides a brief explanation of common neurotransmitters and their function.


It is interesting to note that many people with fibromyalgia have depleted neurotransmitters, which may be responsible for some of the symptoms that decrease quality of life.  But renewed hope may be just around the corner.

It seems that the human body is teeming with beneficial microbes that are critical for our physical and emotional health.  There are approximately 15 trillion cells in our bodies and 100 trillion bacteria.  Amazing, huh?  These bacteria are essential to digestion, metabolism, immunity and our psychological health, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  These bacteria act as messengers that orchestrate our body's function and wellbeing.  So the question is "How do we ensure these essential and beneficial bacteria remain healthy and functioning properly?"  As it turns out, probiotics rarely make it past our stomach and its acid environment.  According to Davidson in "The Psychobiotic Revolution" (Davidson, Jordan.  Psychology Today, April 2014, pg. 40), "It's long been known that the stress system is intimately involved in depression.  People suffering from major depression frequently have elevated levels of the hormone cortisol, released in response to stress.  In a recent study, a probiotic cocktail of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum was found to reduce cortisol levels."  In addition, "many physiological and psychological processes associated with depression can be traced to a deficiency in the neurotransmitter GABA.  Lack of GABA in the brain may bring on the negative ruminations long linked with depression."  Researchers have determined that gut microbes secrete GABA, which include Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum organsisms.  It is interesting to note that dark chocolate increases numbers in both of these bacterial families.  The polyphenols in the chocolate act as a prebiotic and enhance the growth of benefical gut bacteria.  Now that's the best news I have heard in the last 20 years.  I not only drink red wine for health benefits but I am also eating 2 squares of dark chocolate every day.  The specific strain of Lactobacillus reuteri that is found in yogurt or as a supplement works to improve mood, appearance and general health by increasing levels of oxytocin.  Oxytocin is that hormone that gives you a feeling of wellbeing when you cuddle, hug, or have sex.  There are also active yogurt ingredients that reduce anxiety and fear.

We are on the cusp of gaining more knowledge regarding the best way to ensure the health of our body's microbial community that will ensure the health of our body and mind.  Meanwhile, I intend to eat Greek yogurt and dark chocolate every day so my microbes don't go hungry.  Blessings to you and your microbes; may you live happily ever after!
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