Good bugs or good drugs

By Paul Carton

Ever felt your mood lift after consuming yogurt? Or maybe your anxiety fell away after a certain meal? Or perhaps you live your life going by your ‘gut feelings’ and wonder has anyone done any science on what’s the source of power behind these simple solutions to life’s problems.

Although the benefits of consuming good bacteria, either from yoghurt or fermentables, has been around for centuries, it has only been now that scientists across the world are taking up a starting position to be the first ones to connect your gut bacteria’s diverse community to how you behave and deal with anxiety.
This book ‘The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection’ is a publication from one of those competitors on the starting line that want to open a new mood-enhancing bacteria market to compete with serotonin uptake drugs like Prozac.

The book is an accumulation from years of researching by the team at the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork. Leading the research at this institute are Doctors Ted Dinan and John Cryan. Dinan is a professor in psychiatry with his primary focus on depression and anxiety and Cryan is a professor in anatomy and neuroscience.
Now, as a team they are working together with a mutual goal to understand the interaction between brain, gut and microbiome and how it applies to stress, psychiatric and immune-related disorders.

This book is co-authored by science writer Scott Anderson, who presents Doctors Cryan and Dinan to the public, along with their findings as being an important achievement and milestone in the science connecting microbes and humans. The book gives you neuroscience and microbiology 101 crash courses. It also gives a glossary at the rear, which is essential when so many biological features are mentioned throughout the book, with bacteria alone having a number of aliases such as bugs, and microbes.

This allows you to develop a good understanding on the theory they are putting forward. But like anyone who approaches a book like this, you are going to want to know what are the names of these good bugs and where can I get them. Well, it’s actually all in the book. Tables are listed at the back and so are the references they use.
The theory they put forward is still shrouded in mystery, as there are connections being made in the theory that can’t be seen as yet in practice. However, it’s still a good read and one that definitely makes you pursue your own line of enquiry in terms of what you eat. The one thing that is proven in this book is that feeding your gut with fibre is a good start to a healthy life.

Dinan himself coined the phrase ‘psychobiotics’ to describe these bugs that are living in our gut that can have a feedback loop system with our brains and potentially open a whole new market for this venture. If what Dinan and Cryan say is possible through this idea, then it won’t be long before we will be taking bugs instead of drugs. This book is available through your local library.

The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection; Scott Anderson with Doctors Ted Dinan and John Cryan. Published by National Geographic.