Although the digestive system might not be the first organ system that you think of when considering how to boost your mood, research is showing that the bacteria inside your gut actually play a key role in your mental health.
In fact, there’s more and more research showing that taking probiotics can help to improve your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. A large number of studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect of probiotics on mood as well as boosting your brain function (learning and memory). The science is so robust that even Harvard Medical School recommends probiotics for brain health.
What are probiotics?
There is a huge population of bacteria that lives inside of your digestive tract, consisting of hundreds of different species. Collectively, they’re known as the microbiome. These bacteria help you in numerous ways, including helping digest your food, making certain vitamins (including vitamin K), and protecting you from infections.
Probiotics contain particular species of bacteria that are believed to be beneficial. When you take a probiotic, some of these new bacteria may stay in your digestive tract, changing the balance of the microbiome. This in turn can have an impact on the health of your gut, immune system, and brain.
What should you look for in a probiotic?
There are hundreds of different types of bacteria, but a probiotic usually contains just one or a few species. For mood, two of the types of bacteria with the most research behind them are called Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. If you’re looking for a probiotic for mood, you might want to consider checking for one or both of these in the ingredients. There are several different species in each group, but don’t get too hung up on the details – just look for one or both of these names on the label.
It’s important to remember that it can take a few weeks for a probiotic to start working. It takes time for the new bacteria to get established. If you decide to give probiotics a try, don’t be discouraged if you don’t notice a difference in your mood right away. You’ll need to take them for several weeks in order to fully see the benefits.
Some people prefer getting their probiotics through fermented foods. For example, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha all contain potentially beneficial bacteria. Because the amounts of bacteria in these foods are lower than in probiotic supplements, and the specific types of bacteria are not as well-controlled, this may not have as much of an impact as taking a probiotic. Still, some people prefer trying this approach first, then adding a probiotic if they still aren’t getting the results that they’d like.
How do probiotics influence your mood?
Researchers are still working to discover exactly how probiotics are able to boost your mood, but there are a few possible ways that it could work. Gut bacteria produce chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which are used as signaling molecules in the brain. In fact, it’s believed that 95% of the serotonin in the body is made in the gut. Changing the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract could help to balance these chemicals, which in turn helps to improve mood.
There is also a very strong connection between the gut nervous system and the brain. The two are connected through the vagus nerve, which is one of the largest nerves in the body. Signals travel along the vagus nerve in both directions. This means that the brain influences the gut (making us feel nauseous when we’re nervous, for example), and the gut also influences the brain. Because of this, changes in the balance of bacteria inside the gut could easily influence brain functions, such as mood.
Take care of your mental health
There are many different ways to take care of your mental health. Exercise, sleep, nutrition, socializing, and reducing stress are all important. For some people, probiotics might be a beneficial addition to their self-care routine.
As always, if you’re having trouble functioning in your daily life because of mood challenges, or if you find that you’re eating or sleeping too much or too little, please reach out to a mental health professional for advice.
Please note: Information in this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. If you have additional questions contact a trusted medical healthcare professional.