You’ve probably heard of probiotics. A doctor most frequently prescribes them after a round of antibiotics to fend off digestive and yeast-related conditions that can take hold after or during antibiotics use.
One of the lesser-known benefits of probiotics is their positive effect on mental well-being and stress levels. Recent studies have connected gut bacteria disruptions to such diverse neurological conditions as autism, anxiety, obesity, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What are Probiotics?
We often think of bacteria as dangerous organisms to be avoided or destroyed. But our bodies contain billions of bacteria that protect our bodies. Many of these bacteria live in our intestines, but they also live on our skin.
The good bacteria in our bodies can become depleted from illness, antibiotics, poor diet, and stress. Rebalancing our gut biome can help with a broad range of concerns, such as:
- Digestive issues
- Neurological problems
The Benefits of Incorporating Probiotics into Your Routine
While the physical effects of balancing gut bacteria have been known for a while, the mental effects are just gaining traction in the medical community. The bacterial strains that promote improved mental health are often called psychobiotics.
These healthy bacteria create or trigger the creation of various bio-chemicals in the body, forging a two-way communication between the gastrointestinal system and the brain. The nervous system interacts with the neurochemicals the gut bacteria emit, influencing signals that go to the central nervous system.
The Gut-Brain Connection: Understanding How Probiotics Impact Mood and Stress
The Gut-Brain Axis is a term the medical community uses to describe communication between the gastrointestinal system and the brain. There is increasing evidence that the state of our gut microbes significantly impacts our well-being and stress responses.
Introducing the correct healthy bacteria into the gut through fermented foods or probiotic supplements changes the gut’s environment, producing different chemicals. These chemicals can positively impact the brain, improving conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Different Probiotic Strains for Stress Reduction: An Overview
Multiple probiotic bacteria strains have shown positive influences on the Gut-Brain Axis. Here are the best probiotics for stress:
- Lactobacillus – has been found to relieve stress and anxiety in addition to its well-known physical effects, including helping to rebalance the intestinal microbiome especially with people taking antibiotics, or strengthen the system against the disruption caused by traveler’s diarrhea. Even issues with bloating, gas or other intestinal concerns have shown promise with supplementation of Lactobacilli probiotics. It has also shown promise in skin issues such as eczema and acne.
- Bifidobacterium – increases the production of butyrate in the body. Butyrate is a substance that prevents gut toxins from reaching the brain. Certain species produce tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin, which balances mood.
- Saccharomyces boulardii – has been shown to normalize gut permeability, reducing intestinal and brain inflammation and oxidative stress that can lead to cognitive decline.
How to Incorporate Probiotics into Your Routine
As you begin your journey to a healthier gut biome, adding certain foods to your diet can set up good eating behaviors for a lifetime. One drawback of eating foods containing probiotics is that you cannot know how much good bacteria has survived the preparation process.
Yogurt and kefir
cultured milk products typically contain live bacteria, but if they’re heat-treated, the bacteria may not be alive. Flavored yogurts and kefirs may contain live bacteria, but they often carry a sizeable wallop of sugar.
traditionally-produced buttermilk is the liquid left after churning butter. Many brands of commercially-produced buttermilk do not contain live probiotics. Check labels before purchasing for probiotic purposes.
some cheeses contain probiotics, such as cottage, swiss, cheddar, Edam, and Gruyère.
Most people are familiar with sauerkraut as a condiment served on a Reuben sandwich or with sausage. Sauerkraut can be a healthy food, containing fiber, B vitamins, iron, and more. Pasteurized sauerkraut may not contain live probiotics, so check labels.
Fermented soy products
Tempeh, tofu, and miso are soy products created by fermentation that contain probiotics. If you tolerate soy, they can add probiotics to your diet.
Probiotic Supplement Dosages
Probiotic supplement companies typically measure dosage strength in terms of colony-forming units (CFUs). This number refers to the number of bacteria needed to form colonies in the intestines. Supplements can list millions to billions of CFUs.
Much of the most recent research into the value of probiotic supplementation has focused more on the importance of the postbiotics or nutrients and bio-chemicals that the probiotic strains create. The findings have shown that these postbiotics have a greater effect in re-balancing and promoting the positive health benefits than just sheer numbers of colony-forming bacteria (CFUs). So, supplements with prebiotics (to feed the probiotic strains), a diverse amount of probiotic strains and the important postbiotics are often the best choice for making a difference.
Recent studies have concluded that certain strains of probiotics show promise in positively affecting not only the physical body but also the brain, mood, and stress levels. The key to achieving results is carefully choosing the cultured foods and supplements you add to your diet.
Understanding how a company produces foods or supplements will give you a good idea of their effectiveness. Reading food labels and thoroughly researching a probiotic supplement gives you the greatest chance of reaping the benefits of these friendly bacterial strains.
Frequently Asked Questions About Probiotics and Stress Reduction
What are the best probiotics for mood and stress?
It is best to include various probiotic strains, but three that have shown particular promise include Lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and saccharomyces boulardii.
Can probiotics help with anxiety and depression?
There is increasing medical evidence that improving gut bacteria changes the chemicals the gut produces. Good bacteria produce different chemicals than harmful or pathogenic bacteria and send different signals to the brain, often positively affecting mood.
How do probiotics help reduce stress?
The bacterial environment in our gut affects our mental state differently depending on whether the bacteria is healthy or destructive. When we introduce beneficial bacteria and it colonizes the intestines, these bacteria can push out the harmful strains and generate chemicals that have a positive impact on our neurological health.
How long does it take for probiotics to improve mood and reduce stress?
The evidence suggests that some symptoms may improve quickly, but any neurological benefits may require taking probiotics for an extended time.
Are there any side effects of taking probiotics for stress reduction?
Since probiotics alter the gut biome, you might experience bloating, gas, or diarrhea for a few days. If you experience stomach pain, gas or bloating, or intestinal distress that does not go away, stop taking the probiotic and consult your physician.
How can I incorporate probiotics into my diet for stress reduction?
You can incorporate probiotics by eating yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, tofu, or tempeh. However, you never know how many bacteria you consume, if they are alive, or if they are the right strain. Using a high-quality, pure probiotic supplement that contains good bacteria gives you a better chance of reaping the benefits of adding probiotics to your diet.
Are probiotics safe for everyone?
Probiotics are considered safe for most people because they already exist to some degree in almost everyone’s digestive tract. That said, you may have an allergy to something in a supplement. If you experience stomach problems for more than a few days after taking them, an allergy could be the problem, and in such cases, you should consider discontinuing taking the supplement.
Those with severe health or immune system issues should consult a physician before taking a probiotic supplement.