Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 May 2022
Animal studies have shown beneficial effects of probiotic supplementation on the hippocampus (HC) and cognitive performance. Evidence in humans is scarce. It was hypothesised that probiotic supplementation is associated with enhanced hippocampal (HC) regional grey matter volume (rGMV), as well as HC functional connectivity (FC). Relatedly improvements in mnestic and navigational performance, or emotional well-being, were expected to be observed in healthy human volunteers.
A randomised-controlled, double-blind trial (RCT) was conducted in N = 59 volunteers (age Mean = 27.1, s.d. = 6.7), applying a multi-strain probiotic (Vivomixx®) v. non-probiotic milk-powder placebo, each with 4.4 g/day, for 4 weeks. Volumetric data was extracted from 3T structural magnetic resonance images of total HC and -subfields. Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and FreeSurfer-based analyses were performed. Potential neuroplastic change beyond HC was explored using whole-brain-VBM for white- and GMV. Seed-based FC was calculated based on HC. Cognitive tests included visual, map-based, object-location, and verbal memory, and spatial navigation. Mental health status (stress, anxiety, depression, and emotion-regulation) was assessed using self-reports.
There were no changes in HC-total, -subfield GMV, or FC, through probiotics. VBM revealed no changes at a whole-brain-level. There were no effects on cognitive performance or mental health. Evidence in favor of the null-hypothesis, using Bayesian statistics, was consistent.
The applied multi-strain probiotic did not elicit any effects concerning hippocampal structural plasticity, cognition, or mental well-being in young, healthy adults. For future studies, longer application/observation RCTs, perhaps in stressed, otherwise psychologically/ cognitively vulnerable, or ageing groups, with well-founded strain selection and investigation of mechanism, are advised.