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Do you enjoy eating yogurt? If so, you’ve likely heard of the health benefits of consuming this treat, especially improved digestion. The famous “probiotics” are bacterial ingredients well-known for their ability to provide these health benefits. When consumed in their live state, they bring about a host of positive benefits, including improved digestion. However, it seems that probiotics do more than settle one’s stomach; new research is showing that these microscopic catalysts help cognitive function as well. Researchers at the University of Missouri performed experiments on zebrafish which indicated that probiotics can reduce stress levels.

 Researchers used Zebrafish to study the effects of probiotics.

Image Source: isoft

Past research has shown that certain stressors cause high anxiety in zebrafish, including removing water from the tank or crowding it by adding more fish. Patterns like these exist in humans as well, so research on these zebrafish can be generalized to make conclusions about how the probiotics affect humans. Two groups of zebrafish were part of the experiment — one was given a certain probiotic, while the other was not; both groups were subject to the above stressors (one per day) and others, such as isolation stress or temperature change. The surprising result was that fish given the probiotic experienced reduction in the expression of their stress metabolic pathways.

The probiotic in question — Lactobacillus plantarum— is common in yogurt and other supplements that humans are likely to eat on a daily basis. Daniel Davis, assistant director of the MU Modeling Core, explained the phenomenon observed in an interview with MU News Bureau:”Essentially, bacteria in the gut altered the gene expression associated with stress- and anxiety-related pathways in the fish, allowing for increased signaling of particular neurotransmitters.”

The scientists took the project further and studied the movements of zebrafish in the water using complex imaging tools and software. Previous research showed that stressed fish tend to linger at the bottom of the tank, while those in good health remained at the top. In this experiment, zebrafish administered probiotics tended to remain at the top of the tank, further validating the observations of the study.

 Kefir is a common drink containing probiotics and demonstrates health benefits.

Image Source: esemelwe

The researchers hope to use zebrafish to study the potential effects of probiotics and other species of bacteria on humans. Aaron Ericsson, director of the MU Metagenomics Center told MU News Bureau that zebrafish provide “a relatively inexpensive platform for testing of other species of bacteria and probiotics, and their potential benefit on different systems of the body.” Probiotics and yogurt clearly do wonders for our health. What other benefits could arise from this nutritious snack?

Feature Image Source: yogurt by Jason McKim 

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