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Probiotic Eases Depression, Improves Quality of Life in Pilot Study

June 15, 2017
    Premysl Bercik, MD

The probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 (BL) reduced depression and increased quality of life in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in a small placebo-controlled trial published online in Gastroenterology.

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS,” said study senior author Premysl Bercik, MD, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. “This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases.”

Chronic anxiety and depression are common in patients with IBS. Researchers investigated the effects of BL on psychological symptoms in 44 adults with IBS, half of whom were randomized to receive daily BL and the other half placebo.

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After 6 weeks, 64% of participants taking BL had decreased depression scores, as measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale, compared with 32% of patients taking placebo.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans showed depression improvement was linked with changes in brain activation patterns that indicated the probiotic reduced limbic reactivity.

Patients taking BL also showed increases in quality of life, but not anxiety scores.

“The results of this pilot study are very promising,” said first author Maria Pinto Sanchez, MD, clinical research fellow at McMaster5, “but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial.”

 —Jolynn Tumolo


Pinto-Sanchez MI, Hall GB, Ghajar K, et al. Probiotic bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 reduces depression scores and alters brain activity: a pilot study in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2017 May 5;[Epub ahead of print].

First study shows tie between probiotic and improved symptoms of depression [press release]. Ontario, Canada: McMaster University; May 23, 2017.

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