Dr. Kirsten Berding is a post-doctoral researcher at the APC Microbiome Ireland (at the University College Cork) in Cork, Ireland, working with Profs. John Cryan and Ted Dinan. Dr. Berding holds a PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a Registered Dietitian, her research interest focuses on how diet can modulate the gut microbiome-health interaction, specifically mental health, as well as cognitive function. Dr. Berding was awarded an Irish Research Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate the potential of a microbiota-targeted dietary intervention to impact mental well-being.
The microbiota is now well recognized for its role in virtually all processes of the human body, including the brain. Various approaches (most notably probiotics and probiotics) have been investigated for their ability to modulate the microbiota and impact brain function, leading to the coining of the term psychobiotics. Our lab has generated data demonstrating that probiotics and prebiotics can modulate cognitive function in animal models and human populations. Recently, the term psychobiotics has been extended to any exogenous factor whose benefits on the brain can be microbially-mediated, including diet. The use of dietary approaches to improve mental health (such as reducing symptoms of depression) has shown promising results; however, the role of the microbiota in this relationship is still being investigated. This presentation will summarize the knowledge to date on the interrelationship between diet, microbiota and brain function and will discuss potential underlying mechanisms. Recent results from a whole dietary intervention targeted at the gut microbiota, will be presented, showing that a psychobiotic dietary approach can improve feelings of perceived stress and mood in a group of healthy volunteers. Additionally, data on the role of the gut microbiota and metabolites as potential mechanisms in this association will be presented. Finally, opportunities for the development of future treatment strategies for mental health arising from such studies and remaining questions will be discussed.