Probiotics And Mental Health: What’s The Link?
- 5 Mins Read
- Written by: Jillian Lai Mei Siew
- Probiotics are living microbes living mostly inside the body.
- Probiotics enhance gut health and mental health as well through Gut-Brain Axis.
- Gut-Brain Axis is the bidirectional communication from the brain to the gut and vice versa.
- Probiotics help improve mood and cognitive function and relieve stress and anxiety.
- There is a link between probiotics and mental health.
If you’ve ever ‘gone with your gut’ to make a decision or felt ‘butterflies in your stomach when nervous, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this ‘brain in your gut’ is revolutionizing science’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health, and even the way you think.
We know that a healthy diet is important for physical well-being. Probiotics are a mixture of live bacteria and/or yeast that lives in your body. Probiotics are good bacteria that help you to keep your body healthy. They can do more than improve your gut health. They also may indirectly enhance your brain, too. So, can probiotics improve mood? The answer is yes.
Probiotics have become increasingly popular in recent years. You may eat a lot of probiotic foods, such as yogurt or kimchi, or take a daily probiotic supplement to reap their potential benefits.
Your body, especially your digestive system, naturally contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria. There’s a balance in your body between helpful bacteria, or probiotics, and potentially harmful bacteria. Disruptions to this balance may contribute to a range of health conditions.
Research shows that the gut and brain are connected, a partnership called the gut-brain axis.
Understanding the Gut-Brain axis
The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with intestinal functions. The enteric nervous system contains a mesh-like system of neurons that governs the function of the GI tract.
Research has described the importance of gut microbes in influencing these interactions. This interaction between gut microbes and GBA appears to be bidirectional, namely through signaling from gut microbes to the brain and from the brain to gut microbes using neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral links.
The two are linked through biochemical signaling between the enteric nervous system, and the central nervous system, which includes the brain. The primary information connection between the brain and gut is the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. This vagus nerve carries an extensive range of signals from the digestive system and organs to the brain and from the brain to the digestive system.
How do probiotics help mental health?
The gut has been called a ‘second brain’ because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, all of which play a key role in regulating mood. It is estimated that 90% of serotonin is made in the digestive tract.
Experts believe in the role of probiotics for mental health and well-being. The microorganisms living in your gut, including probiotics, play a crucial role in the GBA by:
- Producing neurotransmitters that affect appetite, mood, or sleep habits.
- Reducing inflammation in your body.
- Affects cognitive function and your stress response.
How might probiotics fit in the gut-brain axis?
Research has found that probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function and lower stress and anxiety. It’s too early to determine the exact role probiotics play in the gut-brain axis since this research is still ongoing.
Probiotics may not only support a healthier gut but a healthier brain, too.
Pro and prebiotics can improve mental health and psychological function and can be offered as new medicines for common mental disorders.
Possible benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in foods like yogurt and kimchi. They’re also available in pill or powder form. Probiotics improve digestive health, and they’re often used to treat diarrhea or bloating.
Probiotics can have many positive effects on the body, including:
- Shaping the body’s immune system
- Producing antimicrobial substances
- Fermenting fiber in the diet to generate nutrients for the cells that line our intestines
Could better GI health via probiotics boost emotional health too?
Mental health and probiotics – is there a connection? To answer this and understand the benefits of probiotics in mental health, experts have observed that certain foods can boost mood — just think of the comfort foods we reach for when we’re low, whether it’s macaroni and cheese or a bowl of ice cream. So, there is some connection between the GI tract and the brain.
People often get angry when they are hungry and as soon as they feed themselves, they get more patient, and happy and they tend to calm themselves down.
How do probiotics help mental health – you ask? Here’s the answer! Strong evidence suggests that gut microbes are important in bidirectional interactions between the gut and the nervous system. It interacts with CNS by regulating brain chemistry and influencing neuro-endocrine systems associated with stress response, anxiety, and memory function.
Tips to consume probiotics for mental and gut health
We have seen how consuming probiotics can be beneficial for both mental health and gut health. Wondering how to consume probiotics for mental health and improve your wellbeing?
Here are some tips to include probiotics in your meals.
- Start your day with parfait
- Include kombucha or fermented tea
- Add tempeh to your meals
- Use miso in your meals
- Cook with yogurt
- Try sauerkraut
- Make some kefir recipes
- Include kimchi as a side dish
With a healthy gut, you can develop a strong and healthy gut-brain axis. Include these tips in your daily life and let your gut and brain feel the difference.
An imbalanced gut microbiome, or dysbiosis, is associated with many diseases, including mood disorders like depression. Likewise, depression can cause inflammation which can affect the natural ecosystem in the gut. However, promising research shows that probiotics and prebiotics are having positive effects on depression, anxiety, and stress resilience.
Probiotics are a great way to boost gut health. With improved gut health comes improved immunity, brain function, and overall health and the use of probiotics for mood depression is well known. Load up on these natural probiotic foods or take the help of probiotic supplements for a stronger and healthier gut-brain connection.
To know more about different ways you can take care of yourself, read our blogs on self-care.
- Ansari F, et al. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2020;21(7):555-565.
- Carabotti, M et al.” Annals of gastroenterology vol. 28,2 (2015): 203-209.
- Can Probiotics Improve Your Mood? Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/can-probiotics-improve-your-mood
- The Brain-Gut Connection. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
- Probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function. Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/probiotics-may-help-boost-mood-and-cognitive-function#:~:text=Probiotics%20can%20do%20more%20than,called%20the%20gut%2Dbrain%20axis.