Plain language summary
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is involved in the stress response and is linked to the microbiome through a number of possible mechanisms, including immune-related ones. Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris YRC3780 (YRC3780), a probiotic isolated from kefir, has been shown to have beneficial immune-modulatory properties. The aim of this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, which included 27 healthy young men, was to assess sleep quality, mental health, HPA axis activity (salivary cortisol) and response to an acute stress test during/after 8 weeks of supplementation with YRC3780. At 8 weeks, salivary morning cortisol levels were significantly reduced in the probiotic compared to the placebo group. The effect on the stress test depended on whether or not participants were considered “cortisol-responders” or not. Improvements in sleep quality were seen at 6 weeks (but not at any other time points) in 1 out of 2 sleep questionnaires in the YRC3780 group, whilst no significant differences were observed in actigraphy-measured sleep efficiency. There were no differences in mood between groups, but significant improvements in general health in the probiotic group. Interestingly, no changes in the microbiome of the probiotic group were seen, suggesting that the observed effects may be mediated via the immune system.
BACKGROUND Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris (YRC3780), which is isolated from kefir, has been associated with anti-allergic effects in humans. However, it remains unknown whether daily intake of YRC3780 attenuates the response to psychological stress in humans in parallel with changes to the gut microbiome. We examined the fundamental role of YRC3780 in the gut microbiome, stress response, sleep, and mental health in humans. METHODS Effects of daily intake of YRC3780 on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to acute psychological stress were investigated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 27 healthy young men (mean age and body mass index: 23.5 years and 21.5 kg/m2) who were randomly assigned to placebo (n = 13) or YRC3780 (n = 14) groups. The HPA axis response to acute psychological stress, the diurnal rhythm of HPA axis activity, and gut microbiome were assessed and compared between the two groups. RESULTS The results showed that daily intake of YRC3780 significantly lowered morning salivary cortisol levels compared with placebo. In addition, salivary cortisol levels following a social stress test significantly decreased +40 min after beginning the TSST in the YRC3780-treated group compared to placebo. There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of actigraphy-based sleep quality, but the subjective sleep quality and mental health were significantly improved in the YRC3780-treated group compared to placebo. CONCLUSIONS Our study suggests that daily intake of YRC3780 improves the HPA axis response to acute psychological stress, which might be associated with a decrease in morning cortisol levels.
Conflicts of interest:
A: Meta-analyses, position-stands, randomized-controlled trials (RCTs)
B: Systematic reviews including RCTs of limited number
C: Non-randomized trials, observational studies, narrative reviews
D: Case-reports, evidence-based clinical findings
E: Opinion piece, other
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial was conducted to investigate the influence of Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris (YRC3780), isolated from kefir, on stress response, sleep quality, and mental health.
Twenty-seven healthy young men, with an average age of 23.5 years, and mean body mass index of 21.5 kg/m2 , were randomly assigned to either the YRC3780 group or the placebo group. Participants were administered YRC3780 or a placebo daily for 8 weeks.
Throughout the study, participants completed assessments, including the Athens Insomnia Scale (AIS), the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28), and the Profile of Mood States 2nd Edition-Adult Short, Total Mood Disturbance subscale (POMS 2 TMD), every 2 weeks. Additionally, diurnal rhythms of HPA axis activity were assessed every 2 weeks through saliva samples collected at 2-hour intervals during the day. At the end of the 8-week supplementation period, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) to evaluate the effects of daily YRC3780 intake on the HPA axis stress response. In addition, three fecal samples were collected to analyse the gut microbiome (on the last day of baseline, and at 4 and 8 weeks).
A total of 27 out of 33 subjects (81%) completed the study, with six participants withdrawing without providing explanations.
The primary findings of this study were as follows:
- At week 6 of YRC3780 supplementation, salivary cortisol levels at 2 hours and 6 hours after waking were significantly lower in the YRC3780 group compared to the placebo group (p=0.05).
- Salivary cortisol concentrations at 40 minutes after the TSST were significantly lower in the YRC3780 group (4.2 ± 4.4 nmol/L, mean ± SD) than in the placebo group (7.6 ± 4.7 nmol/L) (p=0.043).
- AIS scores at 6 weeks and GHQ-28 scores at 8 weeks were significantly lower in the YRC3780 group compared to the placebo group (AIS, p=0.031; GHQ-28, p=0.038) indicating better sleep quality and a better mental state.
Oral supplementation with YRC3780 may have beneficial effects on the HPA axis response to acute psychological stress, potentially associated with a decrease in morning cortisol levels. Additionally, the study suggests that the lower basal activity and stress reactivity of the HPA axis may lead to improvements in subjective sleep quality and mental health.
Clinical practice applications:
- The precise mechanisms underlying the correlation between the gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis remain incompletely understood, emphasising the need for further research.
- This clinical trial demonstrated that daily intake of YRC3780 decreased morning salivary cortisol levels at 6 and 8 weeks and reduced the salivary cortisol response to acute psychological stress.
Considerations for future research:
- Larger, adequately powered clinical trials are required to provide deeper insights into the mechanisms responsible for the stress-reducing and sleep-improving effects of Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris.
- Furthermore, investigations into optimal dosage and duration of probiotic supplementation are warranted for a more comprehensive understanding, particularly in diverse demographic groups.
- Comparative research is needed to explore the effects of various probiotic strains on objective stress responses.