A recent study using aprobiotic supplement containing a specific strain of Lactobacillus bacteria has found it to be beneficial in reducing emotional symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
A few months ago The Environmental Illness Resource reported on a small research study looking at how regular ingestion of yoghurt containing probiotic bacteria affected symptoms experienced by chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients. That study found that the yoghurt, which the patients consumed twice daily for 4 weeks, produced benefits in either physical or mental health in most.
Traditionally probiotics have been used to assess their use in gastrointestinal disorders and more recently on conditions of immune dysfunction such as allergies and asthma due to a range of immunoregulatory functions they have been found to exhibit.
Now it is becoming clear that the microflora of the gut play a role in all areas of health including mood and cognitive function. CFS patients commonly experience these kinds of symptoms, the study authors estimating that 97% suffer neuropsychological manifestations of the condition including cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances, headaches, and mood disturbances. As a result the researchers in this latest study decided to specifically assess the ability of a probiotic supplement to improve them.
The study was carried out by A Venket Rao and colleagues and published in the online edition of Gut Pathogens in March. It was funded by probiotic yoghurt manufacturer Yakult but none of the researchers have any financial ties to the company or their products.
To test the hypothesis that the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS) might improve emotional symptoms in CFS patients a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was designed. This type of study is considered the gold standard in medical research, providing the most reliable eveidence for the effectiveness of a treatment.
The study consisted of 39 CFS patients who were randomdly assigned to receive either 24 billion colony forming units (CFUs) of LcS or a placebo every day for a period of two months. All participants provided stool samples and completed questionnaires (the Beck Depression and Beck Anxiety Inventories) both before and after the treatment period.
Of the 39 participants originally enrolled 35 completed the study with 4 having to withdraw for reasons unrelated to the treatment.
What the researchers found was that those taking the LcS probiotic showed much larger increases in beneficial Lactobacilli (73.7% compared to 37.5%) and Bifidobacteria (73.7% compared to 43.8%) species of bacteria in their guts compared to the placebo group. In addition, the probiotic treated group showed a statistically significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to those given placebo.
Rao and colleagues note that the increases in Bifidobacteria numbers are particularly encouraging as these have previously been shown to be low in CFS pateients and are a marker of overall gastrointestinal health.
The LcS protiotic used in the study was reported to be very well tolerated with no significant side-effects reported by the participants.
Finally the researchers conclude that their study provides further evidence for a strong two-way communication between the gut and the brain. Essentially the health of the gut can influence the health of the brain and its ability to function normally so the use of probiotic supplements may provide a means to improve neuropsychological symptoms in conditions such as CFS.
Source: Rao AV Bested AC Beaulne TM Katzman MA Iorio C Berardi JM Logan AC (2009) A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome Gut Pathogens doi: 10.1186/1757-4749-1-6