Is there a link between probiotics and depression?

July 28, 2017 Providence Health Team

Probiotics might aid in mitigating symptoms of depression

We know that probiotics can reduce irritable bowel syndrome and affect colon cancer rates, but what else can they do? A recent study assessed patients with anxiety and depression as linked to irritable bowel syndrome, and gave them doses of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum. At just six weeks, over half of the patients had reduced depression scores—according to the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale. They were also reported to have a greater quality of life score. What is the correlation? In what ways can taking probiotics lead to reduced depression symptoms? Let's take a closer look:

Healing your digestive system can also heal your mind

Probiotics that can alter the mind, also known as psychobiotics, can play an important role in promoting a healthy gut and a healthy mind. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that are similar to the bacteria already in your body. However, if you have too much “bad” bacteria and not enough “good” bacteria in your system, it could throw off your body’s functions and lead to health problems including weight gain, constipation and various skin conditions. These problems can add stress to daily life and increase symptoms of depression and unhappiness. Probiotics are beneficial because they heal you from the inside, and enhance a healthier and happier gut-brain connection.

Anti-inflammation properties can reduce stress

Inflammation can arise from allergies or food sensitivities and can cause your immune system to overreact to the “bad” bacteria. If left untreated, inflammation can lead to health complications, including chronic stress. Since inflammation stems from the gut, certain types of probiotics—specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium—can help alleviate inflammation in the body by secreting neurotransmitters within the gut's lining that release molecules and affect behavior. Ultimately, consuming the right probiotics can lower stress levels, whether it's from negative brain activity or from food-caused inflammation.

Probiotics are not an antidepressant – not yet at least

Although studies have proven probiotics to have a significant impact on people with depression, it is not a scientific remedy for treating depression. As with any treatment, further research needs to be carried out with positive results if probiotics are to ever be considered as a scientifically-proven strategy for alleviating symptoms of depression. It is also important to note that you should speak with a health care expert to fully understand the triggers that might be affecting your mood and body.

According to Dr. Anton Bilchik, professor of surgery and director of the Gastrointestinal Research Program at Saint John’s Hospital, “One area we are currently studying is the microbiome. Housed in our intestinal tract, the microbiome contacts millions of bacteria. Some bad, but mostly good. The brain is constantly communicating with our intestinal tract. Think about it: when you get upset your stomach sometimes hurts or you lose weight. This is commonly referred to as the gut-brain access. Probiotics influence the microbiome and provide feedback to the brain that may reduce anxiety and stress. This research is still in its infancy, but it makes sense. There needs to be a balance in our system. If you take that balance away, your brain and immune system wind up being affected.”

Learn more about the connection between the gut and the brain here »

After speaking with a health professional, you can always further your own exploration by eating a diet rich in probiotics. Probiotics can be found in foods fermented with live active cultures like yogurts, kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir. You can also find probiotics in apple cider vinegar, which also aids in weight loss, lowering cholesterol and controlling blood pressure. If you are considering a probiotic supplement, be sure to research which probiotic strains will work best with your system and lifestyle. It may help to experiment with a few different brands and strains to determine which types offer the results you desire.

Even if you would rather leave depression treatments to a professional, probiotics are a safe bet no matter what. You may even surprise yourself with the results. Contact a doctor to see what probiotics can do for you. Visit our directory to find a doctor near you.

Further reading on psychobiotics here »

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

More Content by Providence Health Team
Previous Article
3 alternative methods for reducing your child’s back-to-school anxiety
3 alternative methods for reducing your child’s back-to-school anxiety

Parents, you’re not alone. Many children experience school-related anxiety, and here's how you can help them.

Next Article
Ask an expert: What you should know about men’s sexual health
Ask an expert: What you should know about men’s sexual health

Erectile dysfunction is more common in younger men than people think. Our expert explains why.