Good gut bugs ease stress and improve memory

Taking a probiotic strain of Bifidobacterium longum reduced physiologic and psychological stress and led to a modest improvement in memory in a small pilot study of healthy men.

The study builds on preclinical studies that identified this B longum strain as a “putative psychobiotic” with beneficial effects on stress-related behaviors, physiology, and cognitive performance in mice, said Gerard Clarke, PhD, from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork, Ireland.

He presented the study findings October 18 during a press briefing at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2015 Annual Meeting.

“The emerging concept of the gut microbiome as a key regulator of brain and behavior represents a paradigm shift in neuroscience. Precise targeting of the microbiome-gut-brain axis with psychobiotics — live microorganisms with a potential mental health benefit — is a novel approach for the management of stress-related conditions,” the study team notes in a meeting abstract.

In the study, 22 healthy male volunteers (mean age, 25.5 years) ingested a capsule containing B longum NCIMB 41676 daily for 4 weeks and a matching placebo capsule for another 4 weeks.

At the start of the study and after 4 weeks of probiotic or placebo, the researchers assessed acute stress (subjective and cortisol output) using the cold pressor test and daily stress using a validated online questionnaire (Cohen Perceived Stress Scale). They assessed cognitive performance using the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery and neurological activity via resting electroencephalography (EEG).

Subtle Benefits

In response to acute stress, B longum NCIMB 41676 led to a reduction in cumulative output of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as a blunted increase in subjective anxiety. On the questionnaire, the men reported being less stressed and anxious while taking the probiotic. They also showed subtle improvement on a visual memory task after receiving the probiotic, as well as altered EEG output.
“These clear but subtle benefits are in line with the predicted impact from preclinical screening platforms and highlight the promise of precision-microbiome manipulation strategies,” the researchers conclude. “Further studies are warranted to evaluate the benefits of this putative psychobiotic in relevant stress-related conditions and to unravel the mechanisms underlying such effects.”

“This study represents a proof of principle,” Dr Clarke said. “The question we are asking now is, can we advance this further and can we use these psychobiotics to deal with the stressors that we encounter on the roller coaster of life, or develop further psychobiotics for patients with stress-related disorders such as depression or anxiety.”

“Today’s findings continue to highlight the importance of the interaction between the gut and the brain,” briefing moderator Robert Yolken, MD, from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, said in a conference statement. “A better understanding of this link will inform new strategies for preventing and treating many psychological disorders.”

The microbiome is a “very good target” because it can be manipulated, Dr Yolken explained during the briefing.

“It’s very difficult in some ways to change the human genome that we get from our mothers and fathers, but we do have ways of changing the microbiome. We have antibiotics, we have probiotics, and changes in diet will do this as well. This is really a very exciting area because it might allow us to finally do something about these terrible diseases,” Dr Yolken said.

The study was supported by the Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board of Ireland, and the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2015 Annual Meeting . Abstract 162.04. Presented October 18, 2015.

Posted in General, Psychiatry

Mediterranean Diet Linked to Larger Brain Volume

A new study provides more evidence that following a Mediterranean-type diet (MeDi) is good for the brain.

In a multiethnic cohort of elderly dementia-free adults, those more adherent to the MeDi had larger brain volume than their less adherent peers. And the difference between the groups is equal to about 5 years of aging.

“Our study adds to the existing literature showing that Mediterranean diet is a healthy diet,” Yian Gu, PhD, from Columbia University in New York City, and member of the American Academy of Neurology, told Medscape Medical News.

“These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by following a healthy diet,” Dr Gu added in a news release.

The study was published online October 21 in Neurology.

Brain Food

The study involved 674 elderly individuals (mean age, 80.1 years) from the Washington Heights/Hamilton Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP). They completed food-frequency questionnaires regarding their diet over the past 12 months and underwent high-resolution structural MRI.

According to the diet history, 304 participants had “higher” adherence to the MeDi (they followed the MeDi principles in at least five food components, higher consumption of healthy foods, or lower consumption of unhealthy foods, achieving a MeDi score of 5 to 9) and 370 individuals had “lower” adherence to the MeDi principles (MeDi score, 0 to 4).

The MeDi includes high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as olive oil; low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat, and poultry; and mild to moderate amounts of alcohol.

Individuals with higher adherence to the MeDi had total brain volume that was 13.11 mL greater (P = .007) than those with lower adherence. They also had more total gray matter volume (5.0 mL; P = .05) and total white matter volume (6.41 mL; P .05).

In particular, higher fish intake (P = .006) and lower meat intake (P = .002) correlated with greater total gray matter volume. Higher fish intake was also associated with 0.019-mm (P = .03) greater mean cortical thickness, the researchers report.

“The absolute effect of MeDi on brain measures were relatively small,” they note in their article. “However, the magnitude of the effect of consuming at least 5 recommended MeDi food components on TBV [total brain volume] is comparable to that of 5 years of increasing age. Similarly, having fish intake of 3–5 oz at least weekly, or keeping meat intake 100 g daily or less, may also provide a considerable protection against brain atrophy that is equivalent to about 3–4 years of aging,” they point out.

The observed relationships between the MeDi and brain MRI measures were not significantly modified by sex, ethnicity, or APOE ε4 status, they note. They say potential mechanisms include anti-inflammatory and/or antioxidative effects, as well as potential slowing of the accumulation of β-amyloid or phosphorylation and aggregation of tau.

“One More Check Mark” for MeDi

“Our study is an observational study. Although our findings are strong, it is still early to make recommendations based on this single [study]. However, our study provides a strong foundation and rationale for future longitudinal studies and intervention studies,” Dr Gu told Medscape Medical News.

This study is “one more check mark in the positive column for the Mediterranean diet,” Donn Dexter, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Health System, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and member of the American Academy of Neurology, noted in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

“The Mediterranean diet,” he added, “would be a very reasonable thing to do if you are at risk or wanted to actively work on prevention. I encourage my patients to follow that advice. However, I still rank it significantly behind exercise, which has clearly been shown in many more studies to be more beneficial.”

“Overall, the check marks are really starting to add up for lifestyle intervention as being a positive step in prevention and maybe even treatment,” said Dr Dexter, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Dr Gu has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Several other authors made disclosure statements, which are listed the original article.

Neurology. Published online October 21, 2015. Abstract

Posted in General, Psychiatry

Grandma’s Experiences Leave Epigenetic Mark on Your Genes |

Grandma’s Experiences Leave Epigenetic Mark on Your Genes |

Amazing article about how events in grandma’s life can effect the genes you get from her!

Posted in Systemic Constellations

Humility versus Expediency

Both humility and expediency show up as flexibility.
So what is the difference?

Humility involves a commitment to our values.

An open hearted awareness certainly helps us to heal and to grow.

Our values give this growth some sort of meaningful shape

Posted in General

“This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination” – The Psychologist

“This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination” – The Psychologist.

An interesting interview with JonKabat Zinn discussing the place of mindfulness in relation to psychology and Buddhism.

Posted in General

Mindfulness meditation beats sleep hygiene for older adults

Older adults who suffer from moderate insomnia may benefit from mindfulness meditation, a clinical trial shows.

The research indicates this form of meditation is a better bet for a good night’s sleep than the more conventional strategy of focusing on better sleep hygiene.

“According to our findings, mindfulness meditation appears to have a role in addressing the prevalent burden of sleep problems among older adults by remediating their moderate sleep disturbances and deficits in daytime functioning,” says lead researcher Dr David Black from the University of Southern California.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine

In a related commentary, Dr Adam Spira from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says the results are “compelling”.

More info can be found at

Posted in General

Heaven and Hell

An old monk was sitting in deep meditation by the side of the road with his eyes half closed, his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap.

Suddenly his meditation was interrupted by the gruff and strident voice of a samurai warrior. “Old man! Can you teach me about heaven and hell!”

At first, the monk appeared unmoved but gradually his eyes opened fully displaying a twinkle. The faintest hint of a smile played around the corners of his mouth.  the samurai stood there in a threatening stance, becoming increasingly agitated.

“You wish to know the secrets of heaven and hell?” the monk eventually replied  in a kind and gentle voice. “You who are so unkempt. You whose hands and feet are covered with dirt. You whose hair is uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is all rusty and neglected. You who are ugly and whose mother dresses you funny. You would ask me of heaven and hell?”

The samurai did’t hear the kindness in the monk’s voice. He only heard the mocking words and so as he uttered a vile curse,  he drew his sword and raised it high above his head. His face turned to crimson and the veins on his neck stood out in bold relief as he prepared to sever the monk’s head from its shoulders.

“That is hell,” said the old monk gently, just as the samurai was beginning the lethal blow.

Instantly, the samurai was overcome with amazement, awe, recognition and compassion for this gentle being who had dared to risk his very life to give him such a teaching. His arms went limp and in mid-flight  the sword fell to a harmless position  and the samurai’s eyes filled with grateful tears.

“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

Posted in General

Constellations& Gestalt – a closer look

Constellations& Gestalt – a closer look

This article is by Gordon Wheeler, an American psychologist who is president of the famous Esalen Institute.
For those interested it discusses the connection between Gestalt therapy and Family / systemic work.


Gordon wheeler and Judith Hemming another highly reputed gestalt therapist and educationalist are both presenting at the Australasian Constellation Intensive at the end of November. Judith is also doing a weekend workshop in Melbourne in Early December. Further details about both events can be found at events page

wheeler Gordon Wheeler                        judith-hemming    Judith Hemming

Posted in Systemic Constellations

Self compassion, Mindfulness and Healthy Attachment

Attachment patterns established between parents  and children serve those children well through life. It allows them to form healthy adult friendships and intimate relationships. I also allows them to embrace the opportunities that life presents to them.

When attachment is healthy, the reaching out movement of the baby toward the mother is confident and unambivalent. Most of us carry some level of interruption to this process into our adulthood. This manifests in our relationships as cutting off, being overly independent  or an exaggerated neediness. These behaviours become more marked when we are under stress. They can also show outside our relationships as an inability to reach out in a healthy way to the opportunities that life offers us. The practice of self compassion as part of mindfulness can help us to heal these dysfunctional patterns. We can then pass on love in a healthy way to others.

These are all connected and the Oxytocin based mammalian care giving system is involved.

Oxytocin is released in massive doses when a mother gives birth. It contracts her uterus stimulating childbirth and after childbirth it stimulates the mother’s milk production as well as  stimulating  nurturing and maternal instincts. It is also increased when someone speaks to us in a soft soothing voice or caresses us gently. It calms us and intensifies our bonding and sense of belonging.

Healing of anxious attachment patterns can begin with restorative adult relationships and  a mindfulness meditation practice  that includes a generous dose of self compassion.

baby reaching out

Check out these links:

Self compassion and oxytocin

The mothering voice


Posted in General

An empathic young mum getting special support from her own mum

In this article the author is considering the position of Prince William with his new baby but without his mother. She was in a similar situation and found a very creative solution. These are the sorts of solutions that often appear from doing a family constellation. For more info go to

Posted in Systemic Constellations