Probiotics are great for gut health and your general well-being, but what about when you are feeling stressed?

When you’re feeling stressed, your body’s natural response is to produce more cortisol. This hormone can wreak havoc on your gut health and make it harder for probiotics to work their magic.

Probiotics for stress can help to keep your gut health on track even when you are feeling overwhelmed.

In this post, we’ll look at some of the most well-studied probiotics for stress, go a little deeper into the gut-brain link, and explain how our gut microorganisms and probiotics may affect our mental health.

The connection between the gut-brain

You may have heard of the gut-brain axis, which investigates the link between our gut and our emotions, as well as how our gut flora might affect our mood. There has been an explosion of studies in this sector over the last decade or so, with some intriguing experiments demonstrating that the composition of our gut flora might affect our happiness and wellbeing.

Many people, as well as healthcare providers, are interested in these studies because the number of people presenting with low mood and anxiety is on the rise.

The gut-brain axis has an influence on many emotional and physical aspects of our bodies - probiotics for stress
The gut-brain axis has an influence on many emotional and physical aspects of our bodies

Can probiotics help stress, anxiety and mood?

Certain probiotic strains appear to have a calming effect on our emotions. Friendly bacteria strains are sometimes referred to as ‘psychobiotics.’  Scientists are investing a lot of effort to figure out how various probiotic strains affect our mental health. Our gut microbiota is thought to influence our mood in three ways at the moment, however, more studies may find other mechanisms of action in the future.

1. To start, certain probiotics, such as GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), serotonin, and dopamine, can create neurotransmitters in the gut or influence the body’s ability to produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry information throughout our nervous system.

These compounds are released in the gut and affect nerve cell signalling, which influences the information sent to our brain. This has a direct impact on our brain chemistry and function, influencing our behaviour and mood as a result.

Because it improves our mood, serotonin is commonly referred to as our ‘happy’ or ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. As a means of combating depression, certain pharmaceutical anti-depressants target serotonin signalling in the brain.

If serotonin is our ‘happy chemical’, then GABA is our ‘chill’ or ‘relaxation’ chemical. GABA signalling is commonly impaired in persons who suffer from anxiety, and it is responsible for a state of calm. Our gut microorganisms play a significant part in the creation of serotonin, which accounts for about 90% of our serotonin. This is one connection between gut health and mood.

2. The impact of ‘psychobiotics’ on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is the second method they can affect our mental state (HPA axis). The HPA axis is part of the body’s stress response system, which controls our hormonal responses to physical and psychological stress. When the HPA axis is dysfunctional, our daily rhythmic production of cortisol and other stress hormones is interrupted, which can lead to feelings of stress, mood swings, and sleep disturbances.

Dysbiosis can cause a ‘leaky’ gut barrier, allowing the contents of the gut to slip through the permeable gut lining and provoking an immunological response. Pro-inflammatory messengers are produced as part of this immunological response, which can activate the HPA axis. In other words, an imbalance in the composition of our gut microbiome might activate our body’s stress response mechanism, the HPA axis, and cause stress.

When beneficial probiotic bacteria in a healthy gut microbiome break down prebiotic fibres, they create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs can help keep the gut lining in good shape, reducing inflammation caused by increased intestinal permeability.

3. The third mechanism of action is assumed to be connected to the anti-inflammatory effects of probiotics. Chronically high levels of inflammation have long been thought to be a contributing factor in the development of poor mood. An imbalance of the gut microbiota (known as dysbiosis) can cause inflammation, resulting in a ‘leaky gut.’ Researchers found that altering the makeup of the gut flora with specific strains of probiotic bacteria improved both mood and stress symptoms.

Managing stress is part of our everyday lives. Don't suffer in silence. Reach out and get help - probiotics for stress
Managing stress is part of our everyday lives. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and get help

Which probiotics are researched for stress and anxiety?

The link between our gut microorganisms and our mental well-being has long been known.

According to a recent study, the microbiome composition of healthy people differs significantly from the microbiome composition of people who have persistent poor moods. Based on the knowledge that stress symptoms are frequently manifested as gut disorders and symptoms of disrupted gut microbiota, researchers have investigated how to modify the microbiome to affect our mood.

Certain strains of probiotic bacteria have been demonstrated in recent clinical experiments to influence our mental state and stress response, but a complete understanding of which strains are optimal to employ is still a long way off. Meanwhile, based on the clinical data we’ve seen thus far, several strains appear to be highly promising. The following probiotic strains have been studied for their impact on stress and anxiety:

  • Bifidobacterium longum 1714
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium longum Rosell-175
  • Lactobacillus casei Shirota

Bifidobacterium longum 1714

The APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork conducted a recent study that gained a lot of media attention. This gold-standard study of 22 healthy male volunteers found that those who took 1 billion CFU of Bifidobacterium longum 1714 had lower levels of salivary cortisol, the stress hormone, and had lower perceived daily stress levels than those who took the placebo.

Although it is unclear how the B. longum strain affects our health, one theory advanced by the researchers engaged in this study is that the bacteria emit compounds that disrupt vagus nerve signalling, which connects the gut and the brain.

Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium longum Rosell-175

This effect has been repeated in numerous investigations employing other strains of beneficial bacteria. One study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2011, looked at the benefits of combining two probiotic strains: Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium longum Rosell-175. Fifty-five volunteers were given one of the two probiotic strains or a placebo every day for thirty days, after which their stress and anxiety levels were measured.

The findings of this study imply that this probiotic combination is beneficial to mental health. In a 2018 study examining the benefits of both probiotics and prebiotics, the effects of the two same strains on symptoms of low mood were also tested and showed similar favourable results, which were not obvious in the prebiotic group or the placebo group.

Lactobacillus casei Shirota

Finally, a study including 39 patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) looked at how the probiotic strain Lactobacillus casei Shirota affected their stress and anxiety symptoms. For two months, the patients were divided into two groups and given either the probiotic or a placebo at a dose of 8 billion CFU three times per day. CFS patients frequently experience anxiety. When compared to the placebo group, the probiotic group showed significant improvements in stress symptoms.

All of these clinical trials give reason to be optimistic about probiotics’ future role in stress management and mental health. However, further high-quality clinical research is required to expand our knowledge.

Other studies that looked at probiotics for stress

Other studies that looked at the connection between probiotics and stress include:

One study found that people who took a probiotic supplement every day for four weeks had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who didn’t take a probiotic.

Another study found that people who took a probiotic supplement for eight weeks had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reported feeling less anxious than those who didn’t take a probiotic.

Stress response system. Stress is the main cause of high levels of cortisol secretion. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex - probiotics for stress
Stress response system. Stress is the main cause of high levels of cortisol secretion. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex

Which probiotics are best for stress and mood?

Scientists are still learning about the entire influence of different probiotic bacteria strains on human mood. Although research is ongoing in this area, it will most likely be some time before we have a list of the best probiotic strains to enhance mental health. The probiotic strains that would undoubtedly warrant being at the top of any selection criteria for probiotics to enhance our mood and wellbeing, based on our current level of understanding and the clinical research data that we have accessible to us, include:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacteria longum Rosell-175
  • Bifidobacteria longum 1714
  • Lactobacillus casei Shirota

Other stress-relieving measures include maintaining a healthy gut environment and regulating the gut-brain axis. Getting plenty of fibre, including whole, unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables in our diet, getting moderate daily activity, and staying hydrated all help us to feel less stressed and keep our gut, or ‘second brain,’ healthy and happy.

How long would probiotics take to help with stress and anxiety?

When considering the advantages of taking probiotics, many individuals wonder how long they take to work. Unfortunately, because there are so many factors, it is not an easy question to answer. Everyone’s microbiome is different; in fact, our gut microbiome is thought to be as unique to us as our fingerprint, which implies that people will react differently. The effects may be felt within days or weeks for some people, but it may take longer for others.

In conclusion

Probiotics for Stress

So if you’re feeling stressed out, it might be worth trying a probiotic supplement. Just be sure to choose a reputable brand and take it as directed.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.


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