News last update:6 Aug 2012

Probiotics can impact stress and behaviour

International scientists gathered at Institut Rosell-Lallemand Scientific Exchange break new ground on probiotics research and pave the way for new applications.

More than 40 scientists and experts from different universities and research centres across North America and Europe gathered last month in Quebec City, Canada to participate in Institut Rosell-Lallemand's Scientific Exchange.

The meeting focused on the intricate and complex relationship between the brain and the gut.

At a time when modern farming practices represent an important source of stress factors for animals, affecting their performance, health and well-being, some promising behavioural studies were shared showing that probiotics can help to manage stress and influence behaviour.

Brain, gut and bugs: a fascinating triangle
The idea of a brain–gut axis is not a new concept, the first scientific studies of the subject date back to the 1960s.

The fact that communication works both ways and that the gut can talk to the brain is a more recent concept.

Even more novel is the idea of looking at the role of the intestinal microflora, or microbiota, with the addition of probiotics, in this brain-gut cross-talk.

As explained by Professor Stephen Collins of McMaster University Medical Centre (Canada): "The intestinal microbiota has profound effects on host function and should be incorporated into a modern conceptualization of the gut-brain axis." He added: "In this model, changes in brain responses, such as stress or anxiety, influence the physiology of the gut, altering the habitat for the microbiota.

"The microbiota, in turn, influences gut physiology and immunity at the gut mucosa level."

In recent years, scientists have also studied their interactions with the immune system. With their action on the gut microflora balance, probiotics could also affect the brain-gut axis.

Behaviour, stress and anxiety
For animals raised with modern production methods, stress is a recurrent issue, and probiotics are increasingly used as a natural solution to control pathogens development or to optimize performance.

During the session dedicated to monogastric animals Dr Nicola Walker (Lallemand, Montreal), demonstrated that farrowing, an important stress event for sows and yet an extremely critical step of its production cycle, induced a dramatic change in the sows digestive microflora.

She explained that:" In our study, we showed that the normal balance of the sow's gut microflora was disturbed by farrowing.

"However, when the sows had received probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii I-1079 for three weeks prior to farrowing, their microflora was less affected by this stress event, indicating a degree of stabilization."

Didier Desor, Professor of Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences at University Henri Poincaré in Nancy (France), presented a pre-clinical study with a probiotic preparation (Probio'Stick™ from Institut Rosell-Lallemand).

Using a mouse model validated with Diazepam, it was shown that: "the probiotic was able to reduce signs of anxiety, displaying an "anxiolytic-like" effect. Such effect had not been previously described with probiotics."

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