Probiotics for anxiety: Benefits and side effects
Feeling anxious? Probiotics for anxiety might be the missing piece of your mental health puzzle.
Nearly 8 out of 10 UK adults struggle with extremely high levels of stress, which the Mental Health Foundation warns is "a significant factor in mental health problems including anxiety and depression."
There are many holistic and medical strategies for tackling anxiety and excessive stress, but there’s one avenue that’s often overlooked—your gut. Groundbreaking research reveals that gut bacteria and probiotics for anxiety are intrinsically linked to mental health and wellness.
In this article, we'll explore the gut-brain axis and how taking probiotics may be a useful tool for easing anxiety.
3 key facts you'll learn are:
The gut microbiome, a collection of bacteria naturally residing in the gut, can influence your mental health and response to stress.
A healthy gut microbiome can help ease anxiety and so it's important to take care of your gut health.
Specific probiotic strains have a positive effect on gut health and have been researched for their effects on mood and anxiety.
Now let's dive into the details!
The gut-brain axis: can probiotics help anxiety and depression?
Research into whether probiotics can help anxiety and depression centers on the connection between your brain and your gut, known as the 'gut-brain axis'.
Your gut may seem figuratively and literally disconnected from anxiety and depression, and yet scientists have found that the health of your gut is closely intertwined with your brain health and mental health. It turns out that your gut plays an outsized role in your central nervous system. For example:
Your gut communicates with your brain via the vagus nerve, and the communication channels go both ways.
Your gut actually contains neurons just like your brain (it’s estimated that your gut contains 500 million neurons, while your brain contains 100 billion neurons).
Your gut produces numerous brain chemicals that directly correlate with your levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and general wellness.
The last bit is especially crucial for those who are concerned about stress and anxiety. It’s been shown that the bacteria in your gut help to produce key neurotransmitters that impact your cognition, emotions, emotional regulation, and emotional response.
Your gut’s bacteria also help to break down waste products, bile acids, and other compounds that affect your mental health.
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Probiotics for anxiety
It’s clear that the healthier your gut and your gut’s microbiome, the better your mental health and your resilience to stress and anxiety. To put it simply, a happy gut makes for a happy you.
If you want to build your gut health to reduce your anxiety, try these strategies:
Eat more fiber-rich and fermented foods.
Reduce or eliminate your intake of alcohol and added sugars.
But if you truly want to boost your gut health and raise your levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut, why not try taking a probiotic for anxiety and depression supplement? It may help fill the gap from the other methods by delivering billions of living bacteria to your digestive tract.
Which probiotic is good for anxiety?
There is no one best probiotic for anxiety. All probiotics work to support a healthier gut and thus improve your mental health, including helping you to better manage stress and anxiety.
But beyond just boosting your positive emotions and reducing anxiety, each different probiotic strain has its own unique properties:
Lactobacillus: 22 of 24 recent trials documented Lactobacillus' positive effect on anxiety, with most studies showing it reduced anxiety symptoms compared to placebos.
Both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus are widely found in supplements and foods throughout Europe and North America.
Within each different probiotic strain, you can also find recent reports on how specific varieties affect your mental health.
For example, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v and Lactobacillus (L.) rhamnosus have both recently been highlighted in studies as being especially potent probiotics for anxiety. More research needs to be done on specific strains, but the general consensus is that most probiotic strains are beneficial for your gut, and thus enhance your brain health.
So, can taking probiotics help with anxiety?
While the studies above suggest probiotics can have a positive effect on managing stress, John Hopkins University says “the jury is still out” and “cautions against using them as a replacement for any prescribed mood-managing medication.”
“But if taking one a day for a month at least helps ease your gut issues,” the university adds, when it comes to probiotics for anxiety and depression —“that alone might make you feel a little bit more ‘up’.”
Everyone's gut microbiome is unique and so the best way to answer ”do probiotics help with anxiety?” is to try them for yourself.
To get the most out of your new probiotic regimen, consider taking your probiotics every morning with a meal, ideally one that contains prebiotics and/or fibre. You can also pair your probiotics for anxiety with vitamins for anxiety.
You should avoid taking probiotics when you’re on a round of antibiotics, but commence taking your probiotics as soon as your antibiotics are finished.
Can probiotics make anxiety worse?
Balance is key when it comes to caring for your gut and, unless you completely overdo them, probiotics generally don't make anxiety worse. That said, there are some side effects to be aware of.
“Probiotics have an extensive history of apparently safe use, particularly in healthy people,” reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). “However, few studies have looked at the safety of probiotics in detail, so there’s a lack of solid information on the frequency and severity of side effects.”
If your body reacts negatively to taking probiotics for anxiety, some of the most common side effects are largely minor. And, for most of us without digestive issues, immune system problems and other serious health concerns, the symptoms tend to go away after a week or two.
Specific side effects may include:
Feeling “full” or a little uncomfortable in your abdomen
However, some small studies have found more serious probiotic side effects in those with pre-existing health conditions, such as pregnancy or a compromised immune system. Always talk to your doctor before changing your supplement routine or trying probiotics for anxiety for the first time.
To sum up
By now, you should be feeling pretty clued up about the gut-brain axis and how it connects to the question 'can probiotics help with anxiety?'.
Your gut communicates directly with your brain via the vagus nerve and produces chemicals that directly correlate with your anxiety levels. Probiotic strains, like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, improve gut health and have been found to relieve anxiety.