Of Mice and Men...

By Christopher Shockey

Some days at the farmers market probiotics seems to be in the air, or at least on the minds of a lot of people that find their way to the shade of our canopy.  Usually it goes something like:


“So, this stuff has probiotics in it right?” they ask.

“Yep” I say nodding my head.

“Cool” they reply, also nodding.


Sometimes it feels a bit shallow but honestly we didn’t get into this business for the health claims…instead for the taste and the beauty of the process.  The health aspects are a big plus and a source to introduce people to fermented foods. For us this is a bonus, we are thankful and realize we should know more but there is only so much time in the day.  A few weeks ago in one of our favorite periodicals to come in the mail - The Week - a small article with the title “How the gut affects mood” caught my eye.


It was a quick summary of an article that appeared last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - which we do not receive in the mail - by researchers in Canada and Ireland who have been working with mice.  No they haven’t been feeding sauerkraut to those little guys but they were feeding them a soup full of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is a species of bacteria naturally in our human intestines and interestingly enough as been patented by some enterprising Finnish researchers.  When their tummies were full of this bacteria broth the mice did a funny thing - they mellowed out.  You would know a mellow mouse from a normal mouse because they do things like walk out into the middle of the maze, instead of clinging to the sides or when thrown in a pool of water with no clear beach to pull-out they swam around without lower levels of stress hormones.


The researchers suspect that the key between the belly and the brain has to do with the Vagus Nerve, which connects the brain to the gut in mice and humans.  When they severed this nerve to a subset of the bacteria-rich broth lovers they were back to their normal wall-clinging, water-fearing mouse selves.


So what does this mean for us?  It is unclear from my research.  The folks that published the research are imagining that it could lead to probiotics replacing pharmaceuticals for disorders like depression and anxiety.  UCLA’s gastroenterologist and neuroscientist Emeran Mayer isn’t so sure.  He says what’s good for rodents isn’t necessarily good for humans.  Still, it’s exciting research and gives us something to talk about at the market.


“So, this stuff has probiotics in it like Lactobacillus rhamnosus, right?” they ask.

“Certainly relatives that will increase the diversity and health of your microbiome and stuimulate your intestinal epithelial cells” I say nodding my head.

“Cool” they reply, also nodding.