Evidence of a gut-brain axis, or the idea that the stomach and digestion may affect the mind, was found in two recent studies, one in Ireland and one at the University of California at Los Angeles. Consumers increasingly under-stand probiotics may affect digestion in a positive way. Might they one day as well think of probiotics as a positive way to affect their mood?

“There has been a good deal of work done by researchers around the globe relating to the gut-brain axis, and this is a really exciting area of research,” said Michael Bush, vice-president of business development for Ganeden Biotech, Inc., Mayfield Heights, Ohio. “Ganeden has done a good bit of work in this area and will continue to do so.”

Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D., a consultant for Dairy & Food Culture Technologies, Centennial, Colo., is following the gut-brain axis situation.

“I think that someday it could result in marketing claims, but we’re a ways away from that right now,” she said.

Groupe Danone funded the U.C.L.A. study, which appeared in the June issue of Gastroenterology.

“Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium or because we think it might help our health in other ways,” said Kirsten Tillisch, an associate professor of medicine in the digestive diseases division at U.C.L.A.’s David Geffen School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.”

The study involved 36 women between the ages 18 and 55. One group ate a yogurt containing a mix of several probiotics twice a day for four weeks. The probiotics were Bifidobacterium animalis subsp Lactis, Streptococcus thermopiles, Lacotbacillus bulgaricus and Lactococcus lactis subsp Lactis. Another group ate a dairy product that looked and tasted like yogurt but had no probiotics. A third group ate no product at all.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans that looked at the women’s brains in a state of rest and in response to an emotion-recognition task. The scans showed the women who ate probiotic yogurt had a decrease in the engagement of a network in the brain that includes areas related to emotion, cognition and sensory. The women in the two other groups showed a stable or increased activity in the network.

Another study on the gut-brain axis involved researchers from the University College Cork in Ireland. It appeared in the October 2012 issue of the Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

“Studies in germ-free animals and in animals exposed to pathogenic bacterial infections, probiotic bacteria or antibiotic drugs suggest a role for the gut microbiota in the regulation of anxiety, mood, cognition and pain,” the researchers said. “Thus, the emerging concept of a microbiota-gut-brain axis suggests that modulation of the gut microbiota may be a tractable strategy for developing novel therapeutics for complex CNS (central nervous system) disorders.”

DuPont Nutrition & Health includes Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM in its Howaru Balance probiotic ingredient, which also includes Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.

“We know there’s some clear evidence published showing a gut-brain link, and there’s been more talks given about that axis,” said Peggy Steele, global business director, food and beverage probiotics for DuPont Nutrition & Health and based in Madison, Wis. “The evidence on probiotics is still emerging. For instance, one study has shown that consumption of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM may increase pain tolerance. This could be very helpful to people who suffer with digestive pain, known to interfere with peace of mind.”

For another potential probiotic benefit, Chr. Hansen recently launched nu-trish Pro-K that may be used in dairy concepts targeting the market segments of mature women and children. According to clinical trials, vitamin K may provide benefits such as reducing bone loss in women and improving bone markers in children.

“It is well-known that calcium is vital for building bones and vitamin D helps to absorb the calcium in the blood stream,” said Sarita Bairoliya, global marketing manager at Chr. Hansen. “However, we also need to bind the calcium to the bones, and vitamin K is needed for this very important task.”

The probiotic category continues to expand in other ways, too.

Ganeden Biotech in July announced new partner product launches involving the company’s GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086). The products include PreGel Happy Yo Super Sprint, an instant mix for the creation of frozen yogurt; TapouT XT All-in-One, a meal replacement mix; Six Star Instant Protein Smoothie; BarnDad’s Rise original instant green coffee; Copper Moon instant coffee; and Fizz sparkling lemonade.

DuPont Nutrition & Health in July began production at its probiotic blending and packaging facility in Beijing.