'Good' Bacteria in the Gut May Alleviate Anxiety

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Probiotics, better known as “good” bacteria that live in the gut and can also be added to the body through dietary supplements, may also help to treat anxiety and even depression.

Philip Burnet, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues looked at 45 healthy people who took either a probiotic supplement every day for three weeks. After that time, the participants took tests to assess how they handled emotional information, such as negative and positive words.

In one of the tests, people who took the probiotic paid more attention to positive information than negative information, the researchers reported in the journal Psychopharmacology. A similar treatment effect has been seen in patients taking antidepressants and antianxiolytics.

They also found that people who took probiotics had lower levels of cortisol in their saliva compared with those on placebo. High cortisol levels have been associated with stress, anxiety and depression.

Researchers, however, added that they are not sure how changes in gut bacteria influence the brain. One theory is that the vagus nerve, which carries sensory information from the gut to the brain, may be involved. Another idea is that gut bacteria affects the body’s immune system, which has been shown to impact the brain.

'Good' Bacteria in the Gut May Alleviate Anxiety
'Good' Bacteria in the Gut May Alleviate Anxiety

The plethora of microbes living in the human gut not only affect people's physical health, they may also influence mental health, according to a growing body of research.

Recent studies in animals show that changes in the gut bacteria community appear to make mice less anxious, and also affect levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In humans, there is some very early evidence of a link between gut bacteria and mental health. A new study from England found that supplements that boost "good" bacteria in the gut (called "prebiotics") may alter the way people process emotional information, suggesting that changes in gut bacteria may have anti-anxiety effects.

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