Probiotics: Food for the Brain?

Thursday, October 08, 2015 Stef dela Cruz, MD 2 Comments

Yes, germs are disgusting. They can make your nose runny and even give you diarrhea. Ew! But did you know that there are germs in food that are considered food for the brain? Of course, it’s just a specific class of germs in food that provide benefits to your noggin. Called probiotics, these germs help promote the growth of normal flora in the digestive system. They make sure the bad germs in your gut are kept at bay.

probiotics food for the brain

Yep, the connection between good germs in food and healthy digestion is sort of understandable. But how on earth do probiotics influence the brain exactly?

How Probiotics Influence Brain Function

In a study on probiotics concluded last month, it was discovered for the very first time that the presence of good germs in the diet actually influenced emotional control and sensory processing.

Is this a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for sure: the food you eat influences your brain function, not only because of the macronutrients and micronutrients it contains, but also because of the many living microbes thriving in it.

Just make sure that the germs in your food are of the “good” type. Look for probiotics, such as the Lactobacillus shirota of Yakult.

Remember that some of the bacteria in yogurt are actually not probiotics. They also cause fermentation of milk, giving it that sour taste you’re used to, but they don’t necessarily help keep your tummy happy.

What Else Can Probiotics Do?

If you have liver disease because you’ve been drinking way too many beers, looking for probiotics in food just might protect your hepatic encephalopathy. Wait, encephalo-what?

Hepatic encephalopathy, in a nutshell, is a consequence of cirrhosis where the brain is the target organ. A study on probiotics and brain function revealed that hepatic encephalopathy occurred 50 percent less in cirrhosis patients who had considerable probiotics in their diet.

But don’t think of yogurt and other sources of probiotics as your ticket to drinking more beer! Remember that probiotics protect; they don’t treat.

Here are more reasons you should stock up on probiotic-rich yogurt.

1. Good bacteria in food may help lower cholesterol. Although many studies have conflicting data, it has been theorized that probiotics help modify the body’s production of different proteins and enzymes involved in the cholesterol pathway.

2. Probiotics help protect surgery patients from post-op infection. This is true specifically for those who will undergo colon and rectal surgery, especially those living in China. (The surgical technique may differ in other countries, so more studies are needed to prove the relationship between low infection rates and probiotics in other countries, too.)

3. Hello, germs in food; goodbye, allergies! One 2012 study in Taiwan proved that adding probiotics, specifically the Lactobacillus johnsonii strain, to levocetirizine was quite effective in treating chronic allergic rhinitis! There are some issue regarding the study’s design, but this has helped open the doors for research in immunology and probiotics.

4. If pregnant mommy eats food rich in good germs, baby is protected from eczema and other allergies. The benefit of probiotics applies only to moms who breastfeed their babies up to 2 years of age. Perhaps the protective factors are transferred via breast milk – no surprise there. The study shows a big difference: Mommies with probiotics in their diet cut their babies’ risk by more than half.

5. If you’re taking antibiotics, probiotics can help repopulate your gut with good bacteria. Have you ever taken antibiotics for an infection, only for you to experience diarrhea days later? Antibiotics actually kill off even the germs in your gut that contribute to normal digestion! Probiotics come to the rescue, ensuring that the good guys don’t go away totally. The result: You don’t get diarrhea. Take note: There were more than 4,000 participants in the study – that’s a huge sample!

Germs in food are not only food for the brain; they are food for the gut, the immune system, and the vascular system, too! I bet you’re buying more yogurt and other healthy food on your next trip to the supermarket, yeah? Extra tip: Share this interesting article with your germophobe friends – I’m sure they’ll, uh, remember you for it. ;)

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!


  1. Thanks stef! Really loveee your blog!

    1. Thanks, Marianne! Glad you dropped by and left a comment!