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Exploring the benefits of probiotics in cognitive function

Dr. Daniel Lamport: ‘We’re at an exciting point in the story of the gut-brain connection. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to discover in the next 10 years.’

Dr. Daniel Lamport is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Reading in the UK.  Over the last ten years he has published numerous research papers and books. His research primarily revolves around the impact of nutrition and lifestyle factors on cognitive function.
He has been a faculty member at the University of Reading since 2014. He and his research team recently conducted a clinical trial to investigate the potential cognitive and mood benefits of Ecologic® Barrier in humans. The results will be presented at the MMM-conference. We interviewed Dr. Lamport about the prevention of cognitive decline, the role of the microbiota-gut-brain axis, and the potential benefits of probiotics.

Can you briefly explain your background in cognition research?

“During my Psychology degree in 2004/5, I did my first human study and researched the effects of glucose on the brain. This led to additional research at Master’s and Doctoral levels. For example, I considered whether manipulating the glycemic response of meals could improve cognitive function in adults with type 2 diabetes. Subsequently, I spent many postdoc years exploring how polyphenols, found in plants like grapes, may benefit cognitive function. As a lecturer at the University of Reading, I pursued research on various nutritional factors that affect cognitive performance. All in all, it was perhaps not surprisingly that I eventually became drawn to the gut’s impact, since it’s how food enters our bodies.”

How do you view the role of the gut microbiota-brain axis in brain health and cognitive function?

“The connection between the gut and brain health is intriguing and something that everyone can relate to. We all talk about gut feelings and experience sensations in our gut when we are nervous, stressed, or excited. It is undeniable that the microbiota can impact cognition and emotions. Nonetheless, I feel that we have only scratched the surface of the complexity of this relationship. My research in human cognitive function involves tightly controlled environments concerning diet and exercise. Yet there is significant variation in performance, even in homogenous populations. I believe biological variables, such as the gut microbiota, play a significant role in why we see differences in cognitive performance between individuals.”

Do you see an unmet need for prevention of or treatment for cognitive decline?

“Our bodies are now able to outlive our brains to an unprecedented degree, thanks to medical advancements. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a greater prevalence of age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Despite the scientific community’s best efforts, these disorders are challenging to treat and prevent, even with drugs. I believe there is now enough evidence to support the role of nutrition in enhancing brain health. While we may not be able to prevent cognitive decline entirely, we can take steps to keep our brains healthy for as long as possible. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy gut are two ways to promote brain health and improve quality of life in old age.”

Based on your experience, do you see potential for improving cognitive function or preventing cognitive decline with probiotics?

“Absolutely, although it’s still early days for the evidence on how probiotics can affect cognitive function. However, the most convincing research I have seen in humans suggests that probiotics can have beneficial effects on mood, which is important for overall mental health. Our recent clinical trial found that probiotics can improve cognitive rumination; a pattern of repetitive negative thinking that can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. This finding has been replicated by other research groups, which increases our confidence in the results. I believe that probiotics may have more beneficial effects on cognitive health in at-risk populations. We know for example, that depression is strongly associated with cognitive impairment. Ultimately, maintaining a healthy gut through probiotics may have numerous benefits for brain health.

What direction would you like to see the field of gut-brain research go?

“For me, there are two areas we need to focus on. The first is understanding how probiotics and nutrition affect the pathways that link the gut microbiota to the brain. The second area is replicating studies to establish confidence in this relationship across the scientific community and the general public. We must consistently demonstrate that the state of the gut can have an impact on the brain. As far as cognition is concerned, in my opinion we need more well-controlled gold-standard clinical trials that assess behavioural outcomes and potential mechanisms of action. Mapping biological pathways to, for example, improved memory in complex trials will help us better understand the gut-brain connection. These types of studies will benefit our field in the long run. There is no doubt we’re at an exciting point in the story of the gut-brain connection. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to discover in the next 10 years!”

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