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Could probiotics be the key to Alzheimer’s prevention?

graphic showing supplemental medicine having an effect on the brain

Vitamin supplements may play a key role in the prevention of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study conducted by scientists from Jiangnan University in China.

According to the website Medical News Today, the authors reported that, “consistently, our findings suggest that probiotic intervention at early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, such as MCI, could improve cognitive function and delay disease progression”.

MCI stands for Mild Cognitive Impairment, which is defined by Dementia Australia as “significant memory loss without the loss of other cognitive functions”. Sufferers of MCI have more memory problems than would be expected in someone at a similar age but are able to function independently and do not show other signs of dementia, such as impaired reasoning or judgement.

Read: The early life dementia indicator you may have missed

Following evidence from animal studies supporting the potential role of probiotics and prebiotics in alleviating neurodegenerative diseases, the Jiangnan University scientists sought to clarify whether there were similar effects in humans. The team analysed 294 papers on the subject, and their findings, published in July, suggested a positive link between probiotics and improved cognitive function, particularly in those diagnosed with MCI.

What are probiotics and where can I find them?
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners defines probiotics as “live bacteria found naturally in the gut, as well as in select foods and supplements. When taken in adequate amounts, they provide a health benefit to the person.”

The most common probiotics come from the genera Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium or yeast.

While the word ‘bacteria’ may prompt negative reactions in many of us, probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria, providing health benefits rather than causing illness.

As they pass through the gut, probiotics interact with gut cells, immune cells and food substances, with beneficial results. Previous research has shown that they support digestive health and immune function, improve resilience to infections and digestion of lactose. Other demonstrated benefits include reducing the risk of eczema and colic in infants. Probiotics have also been clinically demonstrated to assist with disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and immunity post-antibiotic treatment.

Read: Which brain supplements work and which ones don’t?

Sources of ‘good’ bacteria include yoghurt with live cultures, kefir (fermented milk), fresh kimchi (fermented vegetables) and fresh sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).

Are there any side-effects of probiotic consumption?
To qualify as a ‘probiotic’, fermented foods made with live cultures must have been studied and shown to confer a health benefit. However, as with all foods, you can have ‘too much of a good thing’. High probiotic doses can sometimes result in symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.

Should you discuss probiotic supplements with your GP?
The RACGP recommends that general practitioners consider each individual when deciding on supplements versus food. “If there are no published efficacy studies on a probiotic, but it seems to help, the decision about whether or not to continue it is a personal choice.”

Read: When is the best time to take probiotics?

While probiotics have developed a reputation in some circles as just another passing fad food, evidence of its health benefits continues to mount, and a ‘pro-probiotic’ attitude is likely to reap rewards for the consumer.

Have you tried probiotics? Do you have a good recipe that includes kimchi or sauerkraut? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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