Probiotics Boost Mood and Relieve Stress
Psychological stress is more than a negative experience. Researchers have proven that when stress continues over a long time, it affects the health of the human body.
Yes, the stress response is important for enhancing adaptability and coping with threatening situations. However, excessive psychological stress not only increases the risk of numerous disorders in the cardiovascular and digestive systems, along with many neuropsychiatric problems; stress can also cause reduced happiness in life, job burnout, and unhealthy lifestyles, leading to an ongoing stress cycle that can seem difficult to break.1
Stress in our society
More than 350 million people worldwide are affected by anxiety and at least 6% of Americans have been prescribed an antidepressant within the last month. This indicates depression may be reaching epidemic levels, with an increasing demand for effective, healthy stress relief solutions.
Emerging research suggests that probiotics may help to meet this need—by offering beneficial effects on mood, cognition, and anxiety.2
Stress and Digestion
In addition to affecting our mood, stress causes some of the most obvious problems with our digestion. The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that normally inhabit our gastrointestinal tract. Beneficial microbes, aka “friendly flora” as they are called, are crucial to your digestive function, and—as research continues to demonstrate— to the overall health of your body.
When we are under stress, food may move too quickly or too slowly through the GI tract, which can cause other digestive problems including diarrhea or constipation. Furthermore, stress can induce muscle spasms and gas in the bowel which can be painful and interfere with the absorption of nutrients into the body.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live beneficial microorganisms found naturally in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and dietary supplements. They are known as “friendly flora” since they compete for space and food against harmful bacteria, thus preventing unhealthy invaders from colonizing the gut.
It has been found that probiotics can counteract stress-induced changes in intestinal barrier function, visceral sensitivity, and gut motility (movement of food and waste through the GI tract). These and other benefits may be a rationale for probiotic supplementation in people seeking solutions for stress-related intestinal health.3
Using healthy volunteers, seven studies involving a total of 1,146 subjects found that probiotic administration can generally reduce stress levels and may improve stress‐related anxiety and depression.4
Other studies have shown that the gut microbiome has a measurable impact on the brain, influencing stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and social behavior as well as mood. This emerging view of the body’s gut-brain axis shows the close connections between the GI system and the neural, immune, and endocrine systems. Gut microbes play an important role in the immune system and inflammation.5
Studies in mice have shown that certain probiotic strains can increase the production of GABA, an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in the brain and may help reduce anxiety and depression-like behavior.5
So far, the majority of research has been conducted in animal models, while a limited number of human studies have focused on psychiatric conditions. As more is understood about this area, additional research on human subjects will follow.
The Emerging Field of Psychobiotics
“Psychobiotics” is a term coined by neuropharmacologist John Cryan and psychiatrist Ted Dinan, both at University College Cork in Ireland. It is now applied in research to refer to live bacteria that, when ingested in appropriate amounts, might offer mental health benefits. Again, much of this research is based on animal models to assess motivation, anxiety, and depression. Investigations using human subjects represent a very recent trend.6,7
According to research from China, human and animal studies have found that probiotics have a certain role in alleviating negative emotions, reducing abnormal behaviors, improving cognitive function, and relieving psychological stress. Additionally, probiotics increase or decrease the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters and biologically active factors such as serotonin and (urinary) cortisol, the decrease of which is suggestive of reduced stress.1
Probiotics and Diet
Relieving chronic stress can be challenging, but practices such as meditation, exercise, and eating a healthy diet are shown to help.
In addition, a number of nutraceuticals can offer targeted support for neurological health and stress response—including probiotics. The bacteria most frequently utilized as probiotics are in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families. Different strains from the same bacteria may exhibit different metabolic activities and therefore may reveal different physiological functions within the gastrointestinal tract.8
For advanced microbiome support and diversity, ecoNugenics recommends ecoProbiotic—a first-in-class organic, fermented pre + probiotic formula with additional digestive herbs, for optimal gut health and probiotic replenishment. This powerful, dynamic formula contains 8 live clinically studied probiotic strains, in a fast-acting delivery system designed for optimal bioavailability and bioactivity in the gut.*
Numerous findings indicate that probiotics can prevent chronic stress-induced intestinal changes. As the development of medications for neuropsychiatric disorders has lagged for decades, and since many existing remedies do not work for all people, a growing number of researchers see a promising alternative in microbe-based applications. Stay tuned for further research expanding on the use and precise application of probiotics for neurological health support and other essential areas of health.
(1) Ning Zhan, MD, et al; Probiotic supplements for relieving stress in healthy participants. Medicine (Baltimore) 2019 May; 98(20): e154. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000015416
(2) Luis Vitetta, The gastrointestinal tract microbiome, probiotics, and mood
Inflammopharmacology. 2014 Dec;22(6):333-9. DOI:10.1007/s10787-014-0216-x. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25266952/
(3) Lutgendorff F, Akkermans LMA, Söderholm JD. The role of microbiota and probiotics in stress-induced gastro-intestinal damage. Curr Mol Med. 2008;8(4):282-298.https://doi.org/10.2174/156652408784533779
(4) Zhang N, Zhang Y, Li M, et al. Efficacy of probiotics on stress in healthy volunteers: A systematic review and meta-analysis based on randomized controlled trials. Brain Behav. Published online 2020:e01699. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.1699
(5) Europepmc.org. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 31 Dec 2002, 64 Suppl 3:21-27 PMID: 12662130 https://europepmc.org/article/med/12662130
(6) Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012;13(10):701-712. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3346
(7) Amar Sarkar, et al, Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria-Gut-Brain Signals Trends in Neuroscience. 2016 Nov; 39(11): 763–781. DOI: 10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002
(8) Shade, Lindsay; Tapp, Hazel; Dulin, Michael The effects of probiotics on mood and emotion. Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. 2018 May; 31(5):1-2. https://journals.lww.com/jaapa/Abstract/2018/05000/