I am somewhat familiar with the premise of humans having a “second brain,” a theory made popular by Dr. Michael Gershon in his 1999 book The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. Dr. Gershon’s extensive research led to the finding that nerve cells in our guts actually act as a brain, and are able to control our stomachs and intestines on their own. When our two brains are not in sync, havoc can arise within our bodies. While I never read the book, I’ve always found the idea fascinating.
My interest piqued even more after reading this excellent post by Therese Borchard. Therese clearly summarizes the latest research on this second brain, specifically focusing on the link between the gut and brain health. I highly recommend reading this article, which cites compelling studies that indicate a strong connection between the health of our guts and brain disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Enter psychobiotics. A psychobiotic is defined as “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.” In other words, probiotics for brain health. Again, studies have shown promising results. In a study conducted by Dr. John Cryan, two types of bacteria produced in his lab had better results in treating mice with anxiety and depression than escitalopram, also known as Lexapro.
So what does this mean for those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder? The correct answer is probably “It’s too soon to tell.” But I can’t help getting excited over these types of studies, which make me feel as if researchers are on the brink of something huge. Another article called Psychobiotics: Bacteria For Your Brain states:
“Every functional medicine psychiatrist has case stories of the ‘probiotic cure’ – of a patient with debilitating symptoms, often obsessive compulsive range, whose symptoms remitted completely with dietary change and probiotic supplementation.”
I don’t want to give the impression that I think OCD will someday be curable by taking probiotics – I don’t. But there appears to be a lot of good research going on that might lead to psychobiotics being added to some people’s OCD toolboxes. And while exposure and response prevention therapy remains the gold standard in treatment for OCD, there’s no harm in getting additional help wherever we can.