There are numerous holistic and medical strategies for addressing mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, research has indicated that our gut bacteria may play a role in regulating our emotional health through the 'gut-brain axis'.4
In this article, we'll delve into the gut-brain axis and explore how taking probiotics can be a valuable tool in alleviating anxiety and mental health symptoms. Let's dive right in!
The Gut-Brain Axis: An Introduction
Research into whether probiotics can help with anxiety and depression revolves around the connection between our brain and our gut, known as the 'gut-brain axis.' In other words, our gut is closely linked to our brain health. Our gut contains millions of neurons, much like our brains, and produces various brain chemicals that directly correlate with our levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and overall well-being. It also communicates with the vagus nerve to induce relaxation.8
Moreover, our gut can produce essential neurotransmitters that impact our cognition, emotions, emotional regulation, emotional response to stress, anxiety, and overall well-being.8 Additionally, our gut bacteria assist in breaking down waste products, ntrients from foods, bile acids, 'toxicities,' and other compounds that can affect our brain health and mental state.9
Can Bad Gut Bacteria Cause Anxiety?
Achieving a delicate balance between good and bad gut bacteria is essential for maintaining homeostasis and optimal health. When our microbiome is out of balance, we become more susceptible to bacterial imbalances or 'leaky gut.'
Over time, 'leaky gut' or an imbalance in gut bacteria can lead to chronic inflammation. High levels of inflammation in our body can then affect brain function and psychological well-being, including cognition, mood, and irritability.
Furthermore, good bacteria play a crucial role in producing serotonin, our 'feel good' hormone, which is significant for maintaining good mental health.5 Therefore, it's evident that a healthy gut flora is essential for maintaining good mental well-being.
Probiotics for Anxiety: Do They Help?
Probiotics are a blend of live organisms naturally found in some foods, often referred to as "good" or "friendly" bacteria due to their ability to combat harmful bacteria and prevent them from colonising the gut. They also contribute to improved digestive health and a robust immune system.5
Probiotics can be obtained through supplementation or by consuming probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt and kefir.
Insufficient levels of good bacteria in our gut can put us at risk for various issues, including irritable bowel syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.5 Some studies have even linked antibiotic use to the development of anxiety disorders later in life due to their disruption of healthy gut bacteria.6
Probiotic strains like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus have been found to enhance gut health and alleviate anxiety while boosting positive emotions. Notably, Lactobacillus (L.) rhamnosus has shown promising effects in reducing anxiety.6
This suggests that maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria can help regulate our mood and reduce the risk of mental health disorders. Overall, a healthy gut flora is closely associated with better mental well-being.5
Probiotics have also demonstrated the ability to reduce anxiety during athletic performance by influencing physiological responses to stress. Daily supplementation with Lactobacillus Casei resulted in increased delta and theta brain waves compared to a control group. This led to enhanced relaxation and attention during athletic performance among the probiotic group.3
Can Probiotics Worsen Anxiety?
We've discussed the positive aspects of probiotics, but what about the potential drawbacks?
Maintaining balance is crucial when caring for your gut, and generally, there is no evidence to suggest that probiotics can exacerbate anxiety. Probiotics are typically well-tolerated and offer a range of health benefits that promote a healthy lifestyle.5
However, they may have minor side effects such as increased bowel movements, mild stomach upset, diarrhoea, gas, or bloating in the initial days of use.5
In rare instances, probiotics may lead to more severe side effects in individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as pregnancy or a compromised immune system.7 If you have concerns about starting probiotics for the first time, we recommend consulting your GP or a qualified health professional.
Take Home Message
In conclusion, there is evidence suggesting that probiotics can yield significant mental health benefits, reducing feelings of anxiety even during athletic performance. Generally, a healthier and more balanced gut microbiome contributes to better mental well-being and resilience against mental health disorders.
It's important to note, however, that while probiotic supplements have been associated with potential benefits for gut health, they are not intended to cure or treat anxiety disorders but may offer one of many ways to a more natural approach to managing symptoms.
Anxiety is often a complex condition influenced by various factors, and seeking professional medical advice is essential for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Although there is evidence of a connection between gut health and mental well-being, the impact of probiotics on anxiety may vary from person to person.
Probiotics should not be considered a standalone solution for managing anxiety but rather a supplementary approach to supporting overall gut health, which in turn contributes to a healthy mind.
As with any health-related recommendation, we advise consulting a qualified healthcare professional or your GP before initiating any new supplement regimen, particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions or are taking medications.