Psychobiotics are live bacteria (or probiotics) that live in your gut and can positively influence mental health.
Yes, that’s right.
Live microorganisms can actually benefit your health!
Research shows that the best psychobiotics can help treat several different mental health issues, including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia.
Therefore, by modifying the bacteria in your gut, you can enable yourself to cope better with stressful situations, improve your mood, and even treat depressive disorders.
Did you know that your intestines have a brain of their own?
Ever thought about why you get butterflies in the ‘stomach’?
You’ll be surprised to learn that your gut contains more neurons than your peripheral nervous system or spinal cord!
The enteric nervous system (ENS), or sometimes referred to as the intrinsic nervous system, for human beings is made up of over 500 million neurons, while the spinal cord only contains around 100 million neurons!
And that’s not all. A large percentage of two of the most popular happy hormones-dopamine (90%) and serotonin (50%), are found in the biomass that makes up your intestines!
For your gut to function at its best, the desired proportion of beneficial bacteria and bad bacteria needs to be in balance.
That ratio must ideally consist of 85% ‘good’ bacteria and 15% ‘bad’ bacteria.
If this ratio becomes disrupted, it inevitably leads to an imbalance in the gut bacteria, termed dysbiosis.
Upsetting this optimal balance between the friendly and harmful bacteria could give rise to several health conditions.
Some of these conditions are depression, anxiety, memory loss, ADHD, loss of concentration, brain fog, obesity, and chronic inflammation, just to name a few.
As they say, health begins in the gut!
How do Psychobiotics Work?
Let’s learn more about how this gut-brain connection can influence your health.
Listed below are several theories that help explain how psychobiotics bring about changes in our bodies.
1) By stimulation of the vagus nerve (10th cranial nerve)
The vagus nerve is the longest of the twelve pairs of cranial nerves and runs from the brain to the abdomen. It is predominantly involved in the parasympathetic nervous system, one of the two parts of the central nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness and helps with processes such as digestion and relaxation.
Animal studies show that probiotics worked exceptionally well to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress in subjects with an intact vagus nerve. Those with a severed nerve failed to respond.
2) By the synthesis of neurotransmitters:
Did you know that your brain isn’t the only organ that produces neurotransmitters?
Your gut makes over 30 neurotransmitters-chemical messengers that carry messages from a neuron to a target cell. These include dopamine, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine.
Having its own production of these chemicals basically enables the gut to function independently from the brain to carry out its functions.
3) By the reduction of stress hormones:
Exerting their effects on the body’s stress response system (consisting of the brain and the adrenal glands) is another technique employed by psychobiotics to help keep stress levels in check.
When a person suffers from stress induced anxiety disorders, chronic stress, major depressive disorder, or other illnesses, the body’s stress response system becomes disrupted, giving rise to several mood and cognitive problems.
The function of psychobiotics is to maintain the optimal functioning of this system to ensure that everything is under control.
4) By suppressing inflammation in the brain
One of the main culprits responsible for causing depression and other mental illness related mood disorders is chronic inflammation in the brain and body.
The gut could be responsible for some of this inflammation.
Hence, psychobiotics aim to reduce the effects of inflammation in the brain.
They do this by utilizing the ‘good’ bacteria to keep the levels of cytokines (pro-inflammatory chemical messengers) in check.
Elevated cytokine levels are responsible for many disruptive disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
5) By increasing BDNF levels:
An increase in the levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) could possibly aid in curbing mental health problems like depression and in the formation of new brain cells.
6) By acting as antioxidants:
Psychobiotics possess antioxidant properties and hence have an impactful role in protecting the brain from damage by free radicals.
They also have the ability to prevent the overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria and consequently help maintain a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria.
What are the Benefits of the Best Psychobiotics?
- Help reduce anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism.
- Help improve memory
- Help increase levels of the happy hormone serotonin
- Help improve cognition
- Lessen the effects of brain fog
- Can relieve symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
- Modulate the body’s stress response system by producing chemicals such as serotonin and GABA, thus helping to cope better with stressful situations.
- Limiting the production of inflammatory cytokines and consequently helping to bring down the levels of inflammation in the brain and body
- Decreasing the quantity of ‘bad’ bacteria in our gut that can cause problems for the health of our brain and body
Probiotics vs. Psychobiotics – What’s the Difference?
We all know that our gut is teeming with bacteria.
When ingested in a particular quantity, psychobiotics interact with these gut bacteria and bring about effects beneficial for mental health.
Psychobiotics are probiotics!
However, not all probiotic strains qualify as psychobiotics. Only those that positively influence our emotional state and impart mental health benefits are classified as the latter.
The Best Psychobiotics for Decreasing Anxiety and Depression:
According to the data collected from a randomized clinical trial, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum (2 billion CFUs each) have been found to be the most effective at treating depression and anxiety.
In addition to the abovementioned probiotics, there are others available, too.
Take, for instance, Lactobacillus Plantarum strain PS128. It is capable of reducing depression and increasing serotonin and dopamine in rats.
Listed below are some other psychobiotics along with their benefits.
Lactobacillus Helveticus is a bacterium used in the production of cheese. It prevents the nasty bitterness and also gives the cheese a nutty flavor.
It is most commonly used for American Swiss cheese (As well as parmesan, cheddar, and even mozzarella).
However, it is also used as a probiotic strain and a psychobiotic that has been shown to be effective in treating mental health issues.
It works by affecting the gut’s microbiota (or microorganisms), which in turn helps regulate the human gut and its connection to the brain.
These bacteria gut brain signals are vital for maintaining a healthy mind and body.
There are many mental health benefits associated with taking Lactobacillus Helveticus, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and reducing the symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
This probiotic has also been shown to improve cognitive function and memory.
If you are struggling with mental health issues, consider taking Lactobacillus Helveticus to help improve your overall health and well-being.
Lactobacillus Reuteri is a lactic acid bacterium found in breast milk and in some humans’ intestines that helps restore the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
This probiotic has a wide range of benefits, including reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, and improving digestion.
Its benefits don’t end here, this bacteria may also serve as a great psychobiotic for depression and other cognitive disorders.
Being exposed to just one single microbial strain can aid in the prevention of chronic social defeat stress, and depressive-like emotional behaviors.
Lactobacillus Reuteri is a safe and effective probiotic that can be taken by people of all ages.
If you are looking for a probiotic to improve your overall health (including mental), consider taking Lactobacillus Reuteri.
Also Check Out: Best Nootropics for Social Anxiety
Bifidobacterium longum is a type of probiotic supplementation found in fermented foods (dairy and vegetables) like yogurt or kimchi that helps maintain the balance of good bacteria in the gut microbiota.
This probiotic has a wide range of benefits, including reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, and improving digestion.
However, as a psychobiotic, Bifidobacterium Longum tends to do very well with mental health disorders like anxiety, especially when used as a probiotic combination with Lactobacillus Reuteri.
How Can I Incorporate Psychobiotics into My Diet?
I am glad you asked!
Dietary diversity is key to a healthy life. Adding leafy greens and vegetables into your diet is a great way to include psychobiotics.
Fiber is indigestible to us but acts as an excellent substrate for gut microorganisms to feed on.
This helps ward off inflammation and depression. Fiber also has health benefits for those with irritable bowel syndrome!
People who suffer from IBS (about 10-15% of all people in the USA with 2:1 being women), have extremely sensitive nerves within their gut.
And because of this, those with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to experience psychological distress, anxiety symptoms, and big mood swings or emotional shifts.
Other examples of probiotic fermented foods are kimchi, kefir, kombucha tea, and some types of pickles.
What to avoid:
Cutting back on junk food will save you from feeling terrible afterward. Sugar encourages the growth of pathogenic bacteria, consequently leading to dysbiosis and disrupting the harmony of the gut brain axis essential for a healthy brain.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria that live in your gut and help maintain symbiosis. They provide numerous health benefits.
Prebiotics on the other hand, are foods (usually foods that contain a high fiber content) that the bacteria in your gut can feed on, which is great for the microbiota gut brain axis.
The Science Behind the Gut-Brain Connection
There is scientific evidence that backs the notion of your gut health affecting your mood.
Your gut microbiomes are actually capable of communicating with your brain and producing significant changes in your state of mind.
The way these bacteria interact can consequently alter the signals being sent to the brain via chemical pathways and nerves operating from your gut.
Your gut bacteria can be altered for the better by consuming probiotics and psychobiotics.
This alteration can result in a drastic reduction in stress and anxiety levels.
Below are some theories that attempt to explain how the gut-brain axis works.
There are three routes of communication between the brain and gut microorganisms;
- We know that the vagus nerve runs from the brain stem down to the digestive tract.
There are certain chemicals produced by gut bacteria. These signals may influence the signals that are sent from the gut to the brain carried by the vagus nerve.
- Tryptophan is an amino acid produced by some gut bacteria. It is essential for one of the happy hormones-serotonin.
For you to feel good, your brain demands a continuous supply of tryptophan, and that is provided by the microorganisms residing in the hollows of your digestive system.
Gut bacteria could also possibly impact gene expression in the brain. When these bacteria digest fiber, a byproduct of short-chain fatty acids is released.
It seems possible that these bacteria might be transported to the brain via the bloodstream, where they behave as epigenetic modulators and work to reprogram some brain functions and affect mood and behavior such as reduced stress.
The Importance of a Healthy Gut-Brain Connection
It is known that a healthy diet comprising a variety of foods results in a diverse gut microbiome that’s extremely important for establishing a healthy gut-brain connection.
The reason why so many of us are dealing with stress and anxiety less efficiently is that we have come to depend on processed food to fulfill a large portion of our daily food intake.
This results in a poorer gut microbiome that’s unequipped to carry out the processes essential for the maintenance of a healthy gut-brain connection.
A happy gut leads to a happy life isn’t just a saying after all!
Gut health and mental health benefits are both outcomes to be expected from taking the best psychobiotics!
Recommended Reading… (Psychobiotics)
When it comes to using psychobiotics, and researching how the food we eat directly impacts our cognitive brain function, then look no further than Professor John Cryan, from University College Cork (UCC) – Chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience and Ted Dinan, who is the Professor of Psychiatry (also at UCC).
They teamed up with United States based scientist Scott C Anderson to put together a ground-breaking book called ‘The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection’.
This revolutionary book goes into great detail about how our emotions and gut microbiota are directly connected.
Now, I’m sure many people might think this book is probably written is a boring scientific study type of way, but in actuality it is filled with lots of humor and tidbits to keep readers engaged.
If you’re looking for a truly natural way to regulate your mood and emotional state, as well as reduce anxiety and stress by taking advantage of beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotic supplements and foods, I highly recommend this book!
The best psychobiotics possess the ability to influence mood and brain function.
They help you deal better with stress, provide a significant decrease in anxiety and depression, and consequently improve your quality of life.
Psychobiotics are commercially available as probiotic supplements and can be easily incorporated as part of a daily health regimen.