Life these days can be stressful. And all that stress can really take a toll your mood, leaving you feeling anxious, angry, or depressed.
With all the burdens of work, family, and finances combined with a constant 24/7 news cycle and social media pressures, it seems easier than ever to struggle with your mental health. It’s not your imagination either—researchers have found that day-to-day stress and a sense of lower overall well-being are much higher now than compared to just a few decades ago.1
Feeling the Blues
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 10 percent of US adults, aged 18 or older, have experienced some type of mood disorder in the past year. But even though it may seem logical to think that a mood disorder means that something is “off” in the brain, that may not be the case. Instead, there may be something wrong in your gut.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut and the brain are connected. In fact, they are constantly talking to each other, with one of the main lines of communication being the vagus nerve. The longest cranial nerve in the body, the vagus nerve extends from the brain all the way down to the gastrointestinal tract, where your gut microbiome resides. And what affects one can affect the other. Disruption of this axis is linked to all kinds of gut issues, including gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcers, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and even food allergies.2 And an imbalance in your gut bacteria can affect your mood and your susceptibility to stress and anxiety by influencing the activity of your vagus nerve.3
Probiotics to the Rescue
Clinical studies have shown that people suffering from depression have an abnormal composition of their gut microbiota compared to those who aren’t depressed.4 Fortunately, boosting the health of your microbiome—and therefore your brain—can be as easy as taking a probiotic supplement. By introducing beneficial bacteria, you can get a handle on your mental well-being by balancing your gut. In fact, probiotics can influence everything from anxiety and depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder and memory.5
And there’s no shortage of recent scientific evidence that shows the positive effect probiotics have on mood:
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 38 healthy volunteers were given either a daily dose of probiotics or a placebo. After six weeks, researchers noticed a significant improvement in the probiotic group, with participants showing reductions in depression, anger, and fatigue, as well as an improvement in sleep quality.6
In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 423 new mothers, a daily probiotic was shown to significantly improve depression and anxiety symptoms from pregnancy to six months after delivery.7
And a four-week trial of people experiencing chronic sadness showed a considerable improvement in rumination and aggressive thoughts among the subjects taking a multispecies probiotic compared to those receiving a placebo.8
What to Look For in a Probiotic
As beneficial as probiotics can be, they aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution for your mental well-being. Since certain probiotic strains are much more effective at regulating your mood than others, it’s important to look for a supplement that provides specific strains based on your needs. You can also opt for a multi-strain supplement that combines benefits for both the body and mind.
It’s also important to check the CFU count. You’ll want a supplement that provides at least one billion colony-forming units (CFUs) to be effective. Although some products on the market can contain 50 billion CFUs or more, that doesn’t necessarily mean all those beneficial bacteria will be alive when you take them. Look for “guaranteed live at expiry” on the label so that you know you’re getting viable probiotics throughout the product’s entire shelf life.
As effective as probiotics can be at improving your mood, they aren’t the only thing that you should focus on to improve your mental health. Here are some lifestyle tips that can also have a big impact:
Exercise. Breaking a sweat can have a huge impact on your mental state. Studies show that moderate-intensity exercise is associated with better mood. And it doesn’t take much—just 10 to 30 minutes of exercise can be enough for a brain boost. For the most benefit, opt for anaerobic exercises like interval training, weight lifting, Pilates, or yoga.9
Meditate. A 2021 review shows that meditation provides a wealth of positive benefits for your mood. It increases self-compassion and results in brain changes in regions related to emotion regulation while decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol—a hormone known to influence stress.10
Laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. And science backs that up: laughing has in impact on mental health by enhancing positive emotion, stimulating cognition, reducing stress, promoting positive coping skils, and improving interpersonal relationships.11
Be social. Getting together with friends can make a world difference on your mood. Social support is so effective that Australian researchers found that it’s the strongest indicator of depression in older adults.12
Probiotics can do so much more than keep your digestion on track. A wealth of emerging evidence shows that probiotics also play a significant role in mental health. Whether you’re feeling a little blue or you’re suffering from more long-term anxiety or depression, a probiotic supplement may give your mood the boost it needs.
- Almeida DM. Charting adult development through (historically changing) daily stress processes. American Psychologist. 2020;75(4);511–24.
- Padhy SK. Irritable bowel syndrome: Is it “irritable brain” or “irritable bowel”? J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2015;6(4):568–77.
- Breit S. Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018;9.
- Chang L. Brain–gut–microbiota axis in depression: A historical overview and future directions. Brain Research Bulletin. 2022;182:44–56.
- Wang H. Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2016;22(4):589–605.
- Marotta A. Effects of Probiotics on Cognitive Reactivity, Mood, and Sleep Quality. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2019;10.
- Slykerman RF.Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 in Pregnancy on Postpartum Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: A Randomised Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial. EBioMedicine. 2017;24:159–65.
- Steenbergen L. A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain Behav Immun. 2015;48:258–64.
- Chan JSY. Special Issue – Therapeutic Benefits of Physical Activity for Mood: A Systematic Review on the Effects of Exercise Intensity, Duration, and Modality. The Journal of Psychology. 2019;153(1):102–25.
- Pascoe MC. Psychobiological mechanisms underlying the mood benefits of meditation: A narrative review. Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology. 021;6:100037.
- Bahari K. The Effects of Laughter Therapy on Mental Health: An Integrative Literature Review. The Malaysian Journal of Nursing (MJN). 2019;10(3):55–61.
- Miller KJ. Exercise, Mood, Self-Efficacy, and Social Support as Predictors of Depressive Symptoms in Older Adults: Direct and Interaction Effects. Frontiers in Psychology. 2019;10.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.