The gastrointestinal tract, also referred to as the gut, is involved with much more than just digestive health. Maintaining a healthy gut is linked to improved cognitive function, including memory, attention and focus, decision-making, language comprehension, and learning.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that work to preserve a healthy gut. There is a misconception that all bacteria are harmful, but the reality is that probiotics are friendly bacteria that contain a host of health benefits, including promoting a healthy brain and mental wellness.
The Gut-Brain Relationship
The human body is comprised of approximately 30 trillion cells that work every day to keep our bodies functioning properly. You may be surprised to know that we actually have more bacteria living in our bodies than cells. It is estimated that we have nearly 40 trillion microbes  that reside in our bodies with most being found in the gut. These microbes influence cognition, emotions, and mood.
The gut is often referred to as our second brain and with good reason. Many of the neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that regulate how we feel and our mood, are located in the gut. Research is demonstrating that irritation in the gut signals the brain and produces mood changes.  This is why individuals with irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal issues have an increased risk of developing mental conditions like depression and anxiety.
Gut health can also impact mental clarity and overall well-being.
Why Do We Need Probiotics?
Now that you have a better understanding of the connection between digestive health and the brain, you can understand the need for probiotics. The word probiotic is derived from Latin and Greek terms, translating into “for life.” These good bacteria have health benefits that include improved heart health, digestion, immune function, and mental health. Probiotics promote brain health by preventing brain cell damage and death. They can also be useful in skin disorders, including eczema and dermatitis as well.
Probiotics not only ensure that your gut has a healthy balance of good bacteria, but they also help rid the body of bad bacteria. When antibiotics are prescribed for an infection, your doctor or pharmacist usually recommends taking a probiotic as well. Why is that? The reason is that antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria, so they will kill everything. A probiotic will protect the good bacteria.
Who Needs Probiotics?
In addition to anyone taking antibiotics and those with digestive conditions like IBS, adults who want to maintain a healthy brain should consider adding probiotics to their daily regimen. In today’s society, young and middle-aged adults have so many responsibilities between their work and home life, which affects their cognition. Probiotics may help prevent cognitive impairment in these individuals.
Also, we are an aging population, and as we age our mental capacity declines. It is important, therefore, that we protect our minds so that we can remain as independent as possible. Whether you are an older person, or an individual who is at risk for conditions that affect cognitive ability, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, probiotics may help keep our minds sharp. Although more studies are needed, research is trending toward showing that probiotics can boost brain health. A recent study that was randomized and controlled concluded that probiotics do promote cognitive and mental health. 
Supplementing With Probiotics
Probiotics can be found in dairy products and fermented foods, including yogurts, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. The problem is that yogurts can be high in sugar, and some of the other foods listed may not be appealing to you (I would tend to agree on the latter argument). If this is the case, then supplementing with probiotics is a great option.
Probiotic supplementation has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. The market is flooded with different products and selecting the right one for you may seem difficult. There are several things to keep in mind when choosing a probiotic:
- Look for a trusted brand that has been on the market for a while.
- Make sure each dose contains at least 1 billion colony-forming units (CFUs).
- Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most researched probiotics, so a supplement should have at least one of these or a combination of both.
Our Top 3 Picks for Probiotic Supplements
- Align Probiotic Extra Strength – this supplement is the #1 gastroenterologist-recommended probiotic brand and contains Bifidobacterium. Each capsule contains 5 billion CFUs.
- Culturelle Digestive Daily Probiotic – Culturelle products have been used in clinical studies since 1998. Each capsule contains 10 billion CFUs of Lactobacillus, and it also contains an ingredient called Inulin, which is a type of fiber known to improve digestive health.
- NOW Probiotic -10 – Containing a mixture of 10 probiotics, including both Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, this product is a great choice for those with allergies or food sensitivities because it is manufactured in an allergen-free facility. Each capsule delivers 25 billion CFUs.
Probiotics have a clear connection to a healthier brain, and the side effects associated with probiotics are minimal. Gas and bloating may occur but usually subside after several days. Whether you’re a college student inundated with work, a single parent trying to balance a job and family obligations, or an aging individual, maintaining a sharp and healthy mind is critical.
Supplementing with probiotics may be an excellent way to preserve and sustain cognitive function. Although generally considered safe, you should always speak with your doctor before starting any probiotic supplements.