The human microbiome is of great interest to health researchers. Microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria that live throughout the body, especially in the skin, lungs, and gut. According to scientific research, there are 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in the body, and they mainly inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. There are both beneficial and harmful bacteria, and increasing the presence of good bacteria may benefit more than digestion.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria that can improve gut health. They exist naturally in fermented vegetables, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and a few other foods. By consuming probiotics, you provide nutrients to the cells that line the body’s intestines. A higher amount of these bacteria can improve immune health, balance mood, and may regulate brain function.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The road to improved mental health may be through the gut. The gut-brain axis consists of bidirectional communication between the central and enteric nervous systems. This links emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with intestinal functions. Advanced scientific research has pinpointed that gut microbiota can influence these interactions, primarily through different signaling. The intestines generate many of the same neurotransmitters that the brain does. The gut and brain communicate with each other. This is why it’s common for anxiety symptoms to include abdominal pain or distress. Similarly, gastrointestinal conditions may result in anxiety or depression.
What Happens When You Consume Probiotics?
By ingesting probiotics, you feed the good bacteria that inhabit the gut. The more beneficial bacteria you introduce to the gut microbiome, the more balanced and diverse it becomes. Diversifying gut bacteria can provide essential inflammatory mediators, vitamins, and nutrients, which may regulate brain function, as we mentioned earlier. Probiotics can start to work within 24-48 hours, but this all depends on how the body absorbs and digests them.
Can Probiotics Relieve Anxiety Symptoms?
Many studies found that probiotics can improve treatment associated with anxiety and depression. One meta-analysis studied the effectiveness of probiotics on anxiety symptoms in participants under stress. The primary outcome indicated that probiotics helped participants improve mood and reduce stress. That meta-analysis discovered results that differed from similar studies regarding anxiety and depression relief. What’s interesting is that probiotics may be more effective at relieving symptoms of depression than symptoms of anxiety. This isn’t to say that probiotics did not benefit participants with anxiety, though.
Other research monitored different probiotic strains in test groups to see how they affected anxiety symptoms. Out of 14 studies that used probiotics to regulate intestinal microbiota, one-third of them found probiotics to be effective at reducing anxiety symptoms. At the same time, the remaining studies that did not use probiotic intervention also saw a reduction in anxiety. Non-probiotic interventions required participants to change their diets, which proved more effective than probiotics. Changing diet to include more diverse nutritional sources also has a positive influence on gut flora, though. While no probiotics were taken, changing diet encouraged the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. This essentially yields the same result as introducing different probiotic strains to the gut.
At the end of the day, researchers observed that regulating intestinal microbiota benefitted people with anxiety. Establishing a larger presence of healthy bacteria in the gut helped alleviate anxiety scores of people with depression and anxiety. Taking probiotics, then, may only enhance the efforts of adjunct therapies for their specific conditions. More studies are still necessary to determine the clinical efficacy of probiotics for anxiety treatment. As it stands, though, regulating microbiota has a positive effect on people with anxiety.