Psychobiotics : Why Mental Health is NOT All in Your Head

Key Takeaways

  • Why the majority of the probiotic market is not driven by science 
  • How companies are haphazardly pumping strains into their products
  • A study found that 94% of kid's probiotics have the wrong strains 
  • The microbiome presents a unique opportunity for mental health
  • The Gut-Brain connection & its 2 major problem areas:
  • #1: How to deal with liposaccharides (LPS) that are toxic to your brain
  • #2: How to fix the linchpin in your gut that mediates your stress response 
  • A novel 'psychobiotic' named Bifidobacterium Longum 1714™
  • Two cutting-edge formulas for stress coping & sleeping soundly
  • How Bifidobacterium Longum 1714™ can change your brainwaves
  • Up & coming formulas for other gut-related issues


Kiran Krishnan: A Passion for the Unknown

I’d like to introduce one of my favorite scientists: Kiran from Microbiome Labs. Kiran is a research microbiologist that's been involved in the dietary supplement & nutritional market for the past 18 years. He comes from a university research background in the fields of molecular medicine & microbiology at the University of Iowa. Kiran is co-founder & Chief Science Officer at Microbiome Labs and is currently involved in 16 novel human clinical trials on probiotics & the human microbiome.

Kiran's passion for microbiology stems from exploring the unseen universe around us. According to Kiran, he was either going to be a physicist or microbiologist because in both worlds it's about exploring the unknown forces that impact our lives & how profound the outcomes can be. The Human Microbiome became the place to focus because it was a dark abyss of unknowns which is exactly what drives him. Part of the reason he co-founded Microbiome Labs was to provide doctors on the front lines with therapeutics that really make a difference by utilizing the power of the microbiome. 

Kitchen-Sink Formulas: Behind the Scenes in the Probiotics Market 

According to Kiran, the probiotics market has gone haywire because it's not driven by science. Instead, its driven by mega-maniacal marketing where the idea is that if 10 billion CFUs (Colony Forming Units) in one serving of a probiotic is good, 50 billion CFU must be better. Companies started to compete for what looked better on the label & kept upping the game for higher potency. Since there's no establishment on probiotic dosing (such as RDA for vitamins), marketing just drove the industry haywire.  

Being a consultant for lots of companies in the last 15 years, Kiran gives us a first-hand look of how these formulation discussions usually went: one company said that they’re going to create a product with 17 probiotic strains & 50 billion CFU. When asked for the basis of these numbers, the answer is usually that their closest competitor has 30 billion so they want 50 billion for the same price, which means that you need to get lower quality strains to meet that amount. So then they’re literally buying tanker loads of probiotics from China and making a killing by producing millions of bottles for $1 and selling them at $9. Unfortunately, that’s where the probiotic industry started going, 

One of Kiran’s biggest gripes with the industry is that you can't just combine dozens of strains that are not well characterized. For example, a study published in the journal Nature in 2017 took a bunch of kid's probiotics off the shelf and analyzed them; 94% of them had the wrong strains in the capsule than what was claimed on the label because companies are not doing the genetic analysis that's required to verify that what they're buying is the actual strain that they think it is. If you're just loading your system with billions of CFUs from these uncharacterized species you may be competing with your own indigenous bacteria and, if nothing else, they're just dying in your stomach & loading your microbiome with unknown genetic material. This can make foundational changes to how your microbiome functions in ways that we can’t predict. Microbiome Labs characterizes the bacteria properly as opposed to kitchen-sink formulas on the market where they just throw everything together & make it the biggest sounding number. 

Gut-Brain Connection: It's All in your Gut

The Gut-Brain Connection has been on Kiran’s & Microbiome Lab’ radar for years because of the incredible prevalence of anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders in society today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people suffer from daily functional depression and anxiety & find themselves in this weird limbo where their condition is not severe enough for them to see a psychiatrist or they don't want to get a diagnosis & start a drug regimen. Basically, they try their best to deal with it through meditation apps, mindfulness work, self medication, etc.

The microbiome presents a unique opportunity to really make a difference for the average person (the mom, dad, or student at school) who are experiencing sleeplessness, anxiety & stress which are driving things like leaky gut & chronic inflammation and setting them up for other chronic illnesses down the road. This is an important gap in therapeutics, even within functional medicine, and so it became an area of focus for Microbiome Labs. 

When we break down the pathology of the Gut-Brain Connection, we find two big problem areas. First is LPS, or liposaccharides, molecules which are  significantly disruptive to brain function; LPS interferes with dopamine & serotonin binding and can turn tryptophan from being metabolized into serotonin (and melatonin) to be made into neurotoxic substances. As a consequence, LPS creates inflammation in the brain leading to all kinds of mood and depressive disorders. LPS can effectively be dealt with through Microbiome Lab's spore-based probiotic MegaSporeBiotic™.

This brings us to the second part which the spore-based probiotics can’t deal with, the inflammation mediated stress response. For this, Microbiome Labs has built an amazing partnership with Precision Biotics from Ireland who have been specializing in this work for the last 15 years. To understand how the inflammation mediated stress response happens, let's say you're driving to work and somebody cuts you off, creating a bunch of stress in your system. Your cortisol (stress) level rises & the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) gets activated, which ends up activating the immune system & releasing inflammatory cytokines (like NF kappa B, interleukin-6) creating massive inflammation in the brain. 

Feeling stress is perfectly fine & a normal physiological feeling. Ideally, when cortisol goes up, it creates a negative feedback loop which then sends a signal to shut down that whole (stress) system. That becomes our recovery. So all of this system is dependent on elevated cortisol reaching a point where it provides the negative feedback to bring down the whole system. But here's an interesting aspect of that system: the trigger, or linchpin, for whether or not the negative feedback occurs hangs in the balance in the gut. There's a component in the gut that is absolutely critical to make sure this negative feedback happens, and we've outsourced it to microbes. 

The Linchpin in the Gut: Peptidoglycan

What makes all the difference when cortisol enters the GI tract is something called bacterial peptidoglycan. Peptidoglycans are fascinating compounds that bacteria make consisting of sugars and amino acids, and it turns out that peptidoglycans are important to your central nervous system from day one. While pregnant, a mother’s gut bacteria will release peptidoglycan into circulation which makes its way to the placenta and into the baby's brain. As studies show, when the baby's brain binds these bacterial peptidoglycans, that becomes a key stimuli for the proliferation of brain cells & the development of your baby's central nervous system. We have outsourced one of the most important aspects of human development to a bacterial byproduct and it just shows the mind-boggling symbiotic connection that we have with microbes.

Peptidoglycan is super important when you're in utero but it's equally important when you're an adult as well because peptidoglycan from bacteria are the checkpoint for how cortisol impacts the gut microbiome; if you have adequate levels of peptidoglycan being produced in the gut by the right type of bacteria, it will actually keep cortisol in check and prevents the intestinal permeability & the brain inflammation that cortisol can create through the gut microbiome. The peptidoglycans will go as far as binding to certain types of cells on the intestinal lining that create neurotransmitters & change brainwave activity to improve stress coping mechanisms. In short, peptidoglycan prevents the escalation of cortisol & leakiness of the gut while changing brainwave function.

We've now covered the second part of  Microbiome Labs story: the first is to stop LPS (through spore-based probiotics such as MegaSporeBiotic™), and the second is to get a handle on the inflammation driven stress response...

ZenBiome: Coping & Sleeping Well 

Zenbiome contains a strain called Bifidobacterium longum 1714™, a very unique bacteria that also coats itself with peptidoglycan. This awesome species acts as the stress checkpoint by bringing down cortisol, improving sleep & changing brainwave function. In fact, two studies show that when you get exposed to Bifidobacterium longum 1714™, it actually changes your brainwaves to theta, which is the flow state that everyone wants to be in. 

Microbiome Labs looked at the population and saw that there's a lot of issues with both sleeping and daily coping, but there are some that sleep just fine but need more support during the day, or vice versa. Either way, Bifidobacterium longum 1714™ is going to help them, but they distinguished their two ZenBiome products by utilizing a couple of key ingredients that they've used personally. In ZenBiome Sleep™, for example, they use L-Theanine, which pairs so well with the mechanism of action of Bifidobacterium longum 1714™. People that use it are noticing a change in their ability to fall asleep & achieving deeper, longer higher-quality sleep. In ZenBiome Cope™, they used lemon balm & saffron, both gentle & high-quality ingredients with lots of studies showing their ability to simmer down the stress response.

While Bifidobacterium longum 1714™ is working on the root cause (shutting down the stress response), these ingredients provide more immediate support & short-term relief. Dosing is simple: If you were taking just ZenBiome Cope™ and don't need sleep support then you would take two capsules during the day. If you decide to take both products, it would be 1 cap of ZenBiome Cope™ during the day and 1 cap of ZenBiome Sleep™ at night. If you're taking just ZenBiome Sleep™, you do one cap at night. Microbiome Labs is finding that about 80% of people are taking both and about 20% of people are taking just ZenBiome Cope™. 

Looking forward: What’s on the horizon?

Microbiome Labs have two very unique strains coming out by the end of the year. One has a very strong affinity to bind up H. Pylori in your stomach. More than 50% of the population has infectious levels of H. Pylori & while most people know about it through peptic ulcers, studies are coming out showing its correlation to prostate cancer & its massively detrimental effects on the entire digestive system. The standard 'triple-therapy' treatment for it is super aggressive so the idea here is to find a more gentle way of reducing H. Pylori.

In the same vein, Microbiome Labs are also releasing a product that removes heavy metals, another big issue that clinicians & patients are dealing with. For example, a US congressional report came out this year showing how baby foods are laced with crazy amounts of lead and other heavy metals; a really big problem in terms of toxicity and their impact on the microbiome. Here, another species of bacteria can bind up all of the heavy metals from the foods that you're eating and remove it from your system. 

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