Friday, 13 May 2016

Anxiety May Speed Aging, Probiotics May Slow It

Previously, I have covered underlying physical problems beneath depression and anxiety, as well as the role of telomere shortening in aging. Anxiety and depression are already very serious issues, with one in ten Americans on an antidepressant (Life Extension, March 2016, like the rest of this article), but to make things worse, anxiety has been found to shorten telomeres and thus speed cellular aging! This knowledge may cause yet more anxiety, I know, but fortunately there are natural, effective treatments that can target the physical causes of anxiety.

First, some good news: I have recently seen good results in an 18-year-old student clinic patient with anxiety, who I have put on a St John's Wort tablet along with some diet changes. Over the past two weeks, his anxiety and issues with sleep have halved in severity. However, the research I am talking about today is about two strains of probiotics that have been shown to halve anxiety and depression scores in clinical trials. At college, we haven't been warned about drug interactions with probiotics like we have with St John's Wort, so they may be a safer alternative if you are on medications such as the oral contraceptive pill.

Among naturopathic circles, the gut-brain axis, i.e. the relationship between the digestive and nervous systems, is a familiar concept, but can raise eyebrows in mainstream society. Animal studies, which serve as a model of human physiology, have demonstrated that the makeup of the intestinal microbiome (ecosystem of bacteria) can not only influence brain development and mental health, but early life stress can dramatically alter intestinal bacteria composition. For example, mice with sterile intestinal tracts showed exaggerated stress responses, including higher cortisol levels, but administration of Bifidobacterium species normalised the stress response. Disease-causing E. coli bacteria worsened their response to stress.  Probiotics can improve neurological health by reducing inflammation, balancing hormones such as cortisol (the main stress hormone), improving intestinal integrity (reducing leaky gut) and crowding out the bacteria which can produce toxins that may negatively affect mental/neurological health.

Pickling can require Lactobacillus species. Source: Nevit Dilmen

The two species of bacteria in question are Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum, which are available in the practitioner brands that the student clinic sells. In one study involving 55 participants with mild depression or anxiety, a prescription of this combination for 30 days significantly benefitted mental health. There was a 49% drop in the global severity index of psychological distress; a 50% decrease in depression scores; a 60% decrease in anger-hostility scores; a 36% drop in the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Score and a 13% drop in urinary free cortisol. Supplemented participants also reported less self-blame and better problem solving. In another, participants aged 18 to 60 who reported at least two symptoms of stress (irritability, nervousness, anxiety, trouble sleeping and gastrointestinal disturbance) were also assigned to either receive this combination of probiotics or a placebo. Those in the supplement group experienced a 7.6-fold greater reduction in stress-induced abdominal pain, and a 2.1-fold greater reduction in nausea and vomiting related to stress. Of course, diet and lifestyle changes, possibly along with herbal medicine initially, are still things that I would recommend alongside the probiotics, especially if you are looking for freedom from pharmaceuticals. A consultation with a qualified naturopath, which I will soon be, is essential. Mental health has not been my strong point in the past, but it is essential in antiaging and longevity.

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