We’ve known about the connection between the gut and the brain for more than a hundred years. In the early 1900s, two pioneering scientists—Dr. Stokes and Dr. Pillsbury—theorized that changes in the gut microbiota caused systemic inflammation, which in turn contributed to depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and cognitive disorders.
They even suggested treating these “gut-brain axis” problems with probiotics—though they didn’t use that term back then, and noted improvements in the mental health of the patients that took them.
Unfortunately, the visionary work of Stokes and Pillsbury was largely forgotten after the 1930s and for more than eighty years health care professionals have largely ignored the important connection between the gut and the brain.
Back to the future—how the latest research has “re-discovered” the gut-brain axis
Thankfully that’s not the end of the story. Over the last ten or fifteen years, scientists have taken a renewed interest in the gut-brain connection and the potential role of probiotics in addressing mental health disorders.
Thousands of research papers have been published exploring this relationship. Among the more interesting findings:
- 60 percent of patients with IBS and other functional gut problems suffer from anxiety and depression.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, and eradication of SIBO (with antibiotics) improves emotional symptoms.
- Studies suggest that imbalances in our gut microbiota can make us more susceptible to the harmful effects of stress.
- Up to 84 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders have abnormal gut function, and giving them probiotics may decrease autistic behaviors.
- Both probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to improve mood and cognitive function.
I’ve also seen the connection between the gut and the brain firsthand in my work with patients.
For example, Nick, forty-three, came to see me complaining of memory loss and brain fog. He was having diﬃculty recalling even common words, he couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes without losing focus, and his mind didn’t feel as sharp and clear as it once did. “I’m too young to be losing my mind,” he told me. “My dad doesn’t even have these problems, and he’s seventy-ﬁve years old!”
After reviewing Nick’s case, I saw that he also had some long-standing digestive issues like gas, bloating, constipation and occasional reflux. Nick never imagined there might be a connection between his gut problems and his cognitive issues, and none of his doctors had ever suggested it.
I put Nick on a gut-friendly diet and prescribed my favorite probiotic for gut-brain issues (which I’ll tell you more about below). After six weeks Nick had noticed a substantial improvement in his word recall, concentration and focus. “I’m so relieved,” he told me during a follow-up visit. “I was scared things would just get worse, and I wouldn’t be there for my wife and kids. But now my mind feels even sharper than it was before the problems started!”
Probiotics may be great for mental health—but not all probiotics are created equal
Both the research and the collective experience of my colleagues in the functional medicine community have demonstrated that probiotics can be extremely effective for mental health problems. However, not all probiotics are created equal. In fact, there’s a tremendous variation in the quality and efficacy of the products you can buy at your local store or on the internet.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to choose a good probiotic, so they may end up spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the years on a product that isn’t living up to its claims.
This is a topic that is close to my heart. As you may know, I suffered from a chronic, digestive illness for almost ten years—which is what inspired me to do this work. During that time I tried just about every probiotic that I could get my hands on. I poured over hundreds of studies about probiotic bacteria in an effort to find the strains that would be the most effective. And over the last several years in my clinic, I’ve experimented with numerous probiotics in my work with hundreds of patients.
I’d like to share what I’ve learned over all of those years with you about choosing the best probiotic. That way you won’t have to spend the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars I did to get this information!
My favorite probiotic—and why
After years of research and trial and error, I’ve discovered a product that has become one of the most useful tools in my work with patients with mood or cognitive issues. It is by far the most effective probiotic I’ve ever used; it works in a wide range of conditions; and it is well-tolerated even by people that normally don’t do well with probiotics.
It’s called Prescript Assist, and it’s the product my family and I take and I recommend for my patients and my readers. There are several reasons I prefer Prescript Assist to other products I’ve tried:
- It survives the passage through the stomach so it can get to the large intestine, where it belongs. Other products use unproven manufacturing techniques to force fragile bacteria through the hostile, acidic environment of the stomach. In contrast, the strains of bacteria in Prescript Assist form seed-like structures which insulate them from stomach acid and digestive enzymes and allow them to thrive in the large intestine.
- It contains 29 different strains of beneficial bacteria. Many products contain only two or three stains of bacteria, while as many as 1,000 different species of microbes inhabit the human gut. The higher number of strains in Prescript Assist better reflects this microbial diversity.
- It is safe to take with SIBO. As I mentioned above, many people with depression, anxiety, and cognitive or behavioral problems also have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Many commercially available probiotics can make SIBO worse, whereas Prescript Assist is beneficial.
- It is shelf-stable. In fact, lab testing has demonstrated that over 95 percent of the organisms in Prescript Assist are still viable after two years—without refrigeration. This makes it more convenient to travel with, and more likely you’ll take it consistently.
- It contains a prebiotic called leonardite. This means that you’re not only putting good bacteria into your system, you’re giving that bacteria the food it needs to survive and thrive. And studies have shown that prebiotics themselves have beneficial impacts on mood and cognitive function.
- It’s backed by sound science. Prescript Assist is supported by a peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial—the gold standard of medical evidence—including a one-year follow-up study, verifying long-term efficacy and safety.
- It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Many people with mood and cognitive or behavioral disorders also suffer from gluten and/or dairy sensitivity. Prescript Assist is hypoallergenic and suitable for people with a wide range of dietary preferences.
How much should you take—and for how long?
I recommend starting with one capsule twice a day. After the first month, if your symptoms are significantly improved you can reduce to a maintenance dose of one capsule a day.
If your symptoms are severe, you can take as many as four capsules per day until you see significant improvement. Then you can drop down to one or two capsules a day for maintenance use.
Many of my patients choose to take Prescript Assist on an ongoing basis, simply because they find that they prefer how their digestive system functions and how they feel overall while they take it. This is the approach I take myself and with my family. There are so many aspects of the modern lifestyle that are hostile to gut health—from chronic stress to environmental toxins to changes in our food systems—that I think it makes sense to add a layer of extra protection, especially given what we now know about how crucial the gut is to our overall health.
I suggest taking Prescript Assist for at least a month before you determine how it affects you. Fixing the gut-brain axis isn’t an overnight process. It took years for your gut to become imbalanced, and we’re talking about influencing a community of literally trillions of microorganisms. Those changes can take time—but they pay off in spades over the long-term.
Is there anyone that shouldn’t take Prescript Assist?
Probiotics in general, and the soil-based organisms in Prescript Assist in particular, are remarkably safe to take for just about anyone, including pregnant and nursing women.
The one population I do not recommend Prescript Assist is kids under two years of age. Babies and young toddlers do not have fully developed gut flora yet, so Prescript Assist isn’t a good choice for them.
A special offer for members of the ChrisKresser.com community
As a gesture of gratitude for joining this community, I’d like to offer you a 40% discount off your first order of Prescript Assist.
To take advantage of this, simply click on the button below to go to the product page in my store, and use the coupon code “CKBRAIN-020216” during the checkout process.