Probiotics—which are mostly formulated for intuitive uses related to digestive health, immune health, and nutrient retention—are at the cusp of trending toward mental health and emotional wellness. While these applications are in relatively exploratory stages, specific formulations of probiotic bacteria designed for mental health are carving out a segment known as "psychobiotics."
Research continues to verify that certain strains of gut bacteria are capable of expressing or causing the expression of neurotransmitters which affect mood, appetite, and sleep, while other strains are being identified for reducing inflammation in a host of conditions.
Probiotics company ProSperity recently launched its latest formula, ProZenity, which features a proprietary blend of novel, clinically-studied bacterial strains, and other bioactive ingredients, all of which are related to mitigating signs of physiological and mental stress within the gut microbiome by replenishing bacteria known to positively impact mood.
Peter Leighton, CEO and president of ProSperity, discussed the development of ProZenity and what may lie ahead in new probiotics trends.
“ProZenity is the first psychobiotic, or probiotic to support emotional well-being,” Leighton said. “The need to manage stress, anxiety, and mood disorders are increasing in nearly every demographic. In fact, mood concerns affect a majority of Americans. As the number of prescription medications proliferate, many healthcare professionals are working to better understand the connection between the gut microbiome and emotional well-being.”
Leighton, who founded ProSperity two years ago, said that his experience in previous research involving bacteria piqued his interest in utilizing novel bacteria for targeted benefits.
“As I was the CEO of a company working on Alzheimer’s disease, my research team was active in utilizing 16S gene sequencing,” Leighton said. Sequences of 16S gene codes are sourced from certain bacterial strains.
“When they spoke about identifying novel bacteria, I realized the significance of unique probiotic strains for targeted functional benefit,” Leighton continued. “Much research has subsequently come forward identifying specific strains and their positive effect on a host of health conditions. This is the guiding focus of ProSperity Bioscience, which I launched in 2018.”
Struggling with Stress Management
Euromonitor International reported mood/relaxation as one of the fastest growing dietary supplement claims. For the past several years, experts across the board have characterized chronic stress as a public health crisis.
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 survey, Gen Z members are also the most likely of any generation to report their mental health as fair or poor, indicating either that Gen Z is more aware or accepting of mental health issues, or that as more young people reach adulthood, the portion of adults with reported stress issues will increase.
Suffice it to say, with a well-documented spike in consumer health demands surrounding stress and anxiety, ProZenity and other prospective psychobiotic makers are slated to fill a stress management gap in this segment of the supplement industry within the coming years.
Improving Health Through the Gut
“We believe the future of optimizing wellness is through the recalibration of the microbiome. For instance, research shows that individuals who are missing or depleted in certain specific bacterial strains are likely to suffer from certain chronic health issues,” Leighton said. “More and more of us have a depleted microbiome as a result of antibiotic usage, processed foods, limited diets, and lifestyles.”
Leighton said that probiotics researchers are now recognizing the gut as the “second brain” due to the interactive signaling that occurs between the nervous system and trillions of bacteria in the microbiome in a network colloquially referred to as the gut-brain axis (GBA).
A large proportion of serotonin, a neurotransmitter crucial to emotional regulation among other functions, is produced in the gut, for example. Additionally, gut microbes also produce GABA, a neurotransmitter which mitigates adverse effects associated with fear and anxiety.
“It turns out that so much of the signaling from the gut is influenced or created by the flora in the gut,” Leighton said. “The composition of human gut flora changes over time, with dietary changes, and as overall health changes. Eating a processed food diet, using antibiotics, and environmental influences alter the type of bacteria in the gut. Dysregulation of the gut flora has been correlated with a host of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. People with anxiety and mood disorders tend to have gastrointestinal problems. Additionally, there is a link between the gut microbiome, mood disorders and anxiety, and sleep.”
Additionally, ProZenity uses the bioactive ingredients Lactium, a patented milk peptide clinically shown to act upon GABA receptors and reduce blood cortisol levels, and L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea which has extensive research supporting its relation to stress reduction.
While each strain and ingredient in ProZenity has been subject to prior clinical research, Leighton said that ProSperity Bioscience intends to conduct primary clinical research on ProZenity’s formula in particular.