Can Probiotics Help Reduce Anxiety?
Normally, we think of probiotics as digestive supplements. However, more and more research is showing that they could do much more than help your gut.
In fact, a double-blind placebo controlled study found that two probiotic strains, Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175, actually alleviated symptoms of anxiety.
The French researchers also found those treated had lower levels of cortisol, a hormone which elevates due to stress.1
This research is actually pretty interesting. It’s beginning to paint a clearer picture of how our gut can influence our minds and emotions. This might explain why stressful situations may cause “butterflies” in our stomachs and wreak havoc on our digestive system.
But just how is it that probiotics influence our mood? The science isn’t 100% clear, but we’ll explore some ideas below.
Probiotics Boost Neurotransmitters and Lower Inflammation
Scientists have referred to the gut as the “second brain.” Why? Because it contains a vast network of neurons. In fact, it contains over 100 million neurons, which is more that what’s found in your spinal cord.2
Just like the neurons in your brain, the neurons in your gut communicate with neurotransmitters. One particular nerve, called the vagus nerve, communicates directly to your brain. This is why your digestive system responds to stress and outside stimuli.
Rat studies show probiotics increase the number of GABA receptors3 in the brain and the production of GABA4, a neurotransmitter which supports rest and relaxation. The anti-anxiety class of meds called benzodiazepines work by modulating GABA levels.
Probiotics also lessen gut inflammation.5 The French scientists think this is one possible mechanism behind its mood enhancing effects. Studies indicate that inflammation is tied to mental health problems like anxiety.6
How to Get More Probiotics Into your System
Yes — yogurt does contain probiotics. However, they only supply a small dose of beneficial bacteria. For more therapeutic effects, we suggest a high quality probiotic supplement.
And not all probiotics are created equal — there are many strains and preparations on the market. It’s important that you actually get the clinically effective strains in whatever product you choose. Remember, the French study used Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum.
The amount of live bacteria is important as well. Look for products that contain several billion CFUs per serving. That way you’ll increase the odds of the probiotic colonizing your gut. It’s also important that you take your probiotics frequently so that the dying bacteria are replaced.
What You Need to Know
Can probiotics help you feel less anxious? Possibly. As is often the case, more research needs to be done to come to a solid conclusion.
What we do know is that scientists are uncovering new ways that your mind is connected to your gut. Specifically, science is now suggesting that mental health is not just about your brain; it’s about your gut too.