Whether it’s a brisk walk with the dog, a jog in the park or a salsa dance class, we all know that exercise can lift our mood as well as boost our physical health. But did you know that combining your regular exercise with eating yogurt every day may prove even better, both for your heart and your well-being, than exercise alone?
This preliminary research suggests that probiotic bacteria in yogurt may help efforts to prevent and treat depression and lower levels of harmful fats in the blood that can lead to heart disease. A small study in healthy young people, it also suggests that a combination of yogurt consumption and exercise could offer greater health benefits than yogurt or exercise alone.
Combatting depression and heart disease
Depression and cardiovascular (CVD) disease are major health challenges throughout the world and the search is on for drug-free ways to prevent and manage these conditions. Although research has shown there may be individual benefits associated with yogurt and exercise on depression and CVD, their combined effects aren’t known, say the authors.
Their study recruited 24 healthy university students in South Korea, and allocated 3 men and 3 women to each of 4 groups: a control group having no yogurt or exercise, a yogurt group (eating 83 g serving of plain probiotic yogurt after lunch and the evening meal), a group taking daily exercise for 40 minutes, and a combination group having yogurt plus exercise. Blood levels of biomarkers for depression and CVD were measured at the start of the study and 2 weeks later to see whether there were any changes.
‘Happy’ chemical, Serotonin, rises with yogurt plus exercise
Serotonin, found in the nervous system, is known as the ‘happy’ chemical because it helps to regulate mood. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression.
The study found that serotonin levels increased only in the group of participants having the combination of yogurt and exercise.
Vitamin D – low levels of which are also related to depression – increased in the exercise group but didn’t change in the other groups. This may be because the participants exercised outside so their skin was exposed to sunlight, necessary for us to make vitamin D.
‘The results of this study indicated that the combination of yogurt and exercise was more effective, relative to yogurt or exercise alone, in preventing depression and CVD [cardiovascular disease].’ – Kim et al, 2018.
Yogurt plus exercise improves markers for heart disease
Abnormal amounts of fats in the blood indicate a risk for CVD. These biomarkers include increases in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and triglycerides, and reductions in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation and is another useful indicator that can warn of the risk of CVD.
In the study, triglyceride and CRP levels were significantly reduced only in the combination group. There were no changes in levels of total cholesterol, LDL-C or HDL-C.
How probiotics may be associated with reduced risk of depression
Serotonin is mostly made in our gut and scientists believe that the gut microbiota may play an important role in its synthesis. Studies suggest that probiotics, as found in yogurt, may reduce the risk of depression by boosting the production of serotonin from an amino acid, tryptophan. The findings of this study suggest that exercise may stimulate this process.
The authors suggest that further studies with more participants and a greater variety of biomarkers are needed to clarify the combined effects of yogurt and exercise on depression and heart disease.