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Introduction to Psychobiotics by our Functional Medicine Toronto Clinic: Part I


The concept of psychobiotics – which are probiotics that have a positive impact on mental health – has been discussed with some of our functional medicine Toronto patients. This topic has gained attention in recent years due to the increasing understanding of the gut-brain axis. 

What is this axis? Well, it refers to the bidirectional communication between the central nervous system (CNS) and the gastrointestinal tract, which is mediated through neural, endocrine, and immune pathways. The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in this communication, affecting brain function and behaviour. So, when you think about it, your current gut health could play a role in your anxiety or stress levels! 

Research suggests that certain psychobiotic strains may have health benefits for CNS disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, depression, diabetic neuropathy, and anorexia nervosa. The proposed mechanisms include the modulation of neurotransmitters, reduction of inflammation, and regulation of the immune system.

These findings are promising, though further human studies are necessary to confirm the efficacy of psychobiotics in treating CNS disorders. In this post, the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre highlights what’s known so far about the gut-brain axis and how psychobiotics may impact neurological health conditions.  

Understanding the microbiota-gut-brain axis

Psychobiotic strains can impact the gut-brain axis by producing neuroactive metabolites and associated inflammatory mediator regulators. This association is regulated by hormones, the vagus nerve (VN) system, and immune responses. The gut-brain axis plays a role in various physiological processes/bodily functions, including satiety, food intake, fat and bone metabolism, glucose regulation, and insulin secretion.

These neuroactive metabolites produced by the gut-brain axis can pass through the gut and blood-brain barriers, and may affect brain function; they may also potentially alleviate neurological disorder symptoms. The activity of the gut-brain axis has been linked to stress and anxiety levels, and modifying the gut microbiota through psychobiotics could assist the treatment and improvement of psychiatric disorders.

Research has demonstrated psychobiotics’ potential for improving mental health by altering gut microbiota properties. For instance, studies have shown that changes can occur in the gut microbiota composition of autistic patients and psychotic patients after administering antibiotics. The microbiota-gut-brain axis can be modulated with prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, and postbiotics. Psychobiotics may offer a novel approach to supporting mental health and treating neurological disorders by targeting the gut-brain axis.

Highlighting functional foods rich with psychobiotics

Psychobiotics may influence mental health because they can interact with gut bacteria and create neurotransmitters and neurohormones. 

So which foods contain these healthy bacteria? We suggest eating fermented food items (see side bar) because they hold particular strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus with psychobiotic effects. These are capable of producing neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and nitric oxide (NO), which are essential for maintaining brain function and preventing neurological diseases.

Eating psychobiotic-containing functional foods have been linked to mental health benefits, such as improvements to cognitive function, mood and stress levels. These positive effects have been backed by studies, especially regarding the consumption of fermented milk with L. casei Shirota, L. helveticus, and kefir-containing L. reuteri.

Foods with psychobiotics


Our functional medicine providers can advise you which foods are suitable your specific health goals.
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These types of foods and their psychobiotic content can offer a novel approach to improving mental health and preventing neurological diseases. Further studies are necessary to determine optimal strains, dosages, and duration of treatment. But incorporating psychobiotics into our diets may become an essential component in preventing/treating various neurological and psychiatric disorders.

What’s next? A preview of Part II 

Probiotics may have health benefits for managing clinical symptoms of various central nervous system (CNS) disorders. These are primarily attributed to the enhancement of gut health and the modulation of the microbiota through the gut-brain axis.

List of gut microbes that could potentially create neurohormones

Lactobacillus rhamnosus
Lactobacillus helventicus
Bifidobacterium infantis
Lactobacillus reuteri
Bacteroides species
Escherichia species

Consuming a healthy diet rich in probiotics can play a crucial role in preventing and managing CNS disorders. What else is there to know about psychobiotics and probiotics? Keep an eye out for Part II, where we uncover how psychobiotics impact MS, Parkinson’s, and other disease conditions. Continue reading below to learn about our clinical practice.

Recommended Reading: Functional Medicine Toronto Approach to Leaky Gut and Widespread Inflammation

About our functional medicine approach to wellness

We know that implementing healthy lifestyle decisions can be challenging. But our clinical nutrition and functional medicine strategies can help inspire you to grab hold of your wellness reins! 

A customized approach to health care can cater to your condition only. By understanding your individual components, such as your medical history/genetics, current lifestyle factors and environmental factors, we can tailor a distinctive health care plan for your concerns. Our functional medicine treatments may combine a wide variety of tactics to help relieve individual symptoms (i.e. digestive issues, chronic pain/body aches, sleep issues) and promote optimal wellness. Our healthcare providers may offer clinical care from acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (hormone optimization programs), health detoxification programs, and more. 

When you become a patient, you have access to our IV Lounge, where we offer personalized treatment plans with intravenous vitamin therapy. IV drips are blended with the core principles of integrative functional medicine wisdom. When combined with lifestyle modifications and functional medicine therapies, IV therapy could act as adjunct support for your wellness goal.  

Functional medicine programs and a healthy lifestyle could promote weight loss and improve gut health. Call (416) 968-6961 to request a health assessment with our functional medicine Toronto providers.  

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting a doctor. Consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.



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