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Dr. Erin Hendriks

Which probiotics are best for anxiety?

Psychobiotics, a subcategory of probiotics, can reduce anxiety, improve depression, and sharpen cognition.

Published:

November 11, 2022

Written by:

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Erin Hendriks

Board-Certified Physician

Published:

November 11, 2022

From Our Doctors
From Our Doctors
Mental Health
Mental Health
Nutrition
Nutrition

The 1,000 or so colonies of microorganisms that live in your gut weigh around the same as your brain (or about three pounds, to be more precise). And your microbiome, like your brain, can deeply affect your mental health. 

The silver lining is that if you, like 50% to 90% of other people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also have conditions like anxiety or depressive disorder, you might be able to improve that by changing what you’re eating.

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Cue psychobiotics, a subcategory of probiotics that can reduce anxiety, improve depression, and sharpen cognition.

How psychobiotics can help with anxiety 

Probiotics, including psychobiotics, are hard-working, beneficial microorganisms that help you digest while also guarding your gut from destructive microbiota. As Dr. Emeran Mayer points out, a robust microbiome is vital, since it helps your mind and digestive system communicate via neurotransmitters in an arrangement that’s called the gut-brain axis. 

What you eat influences your mind, including your mood and mental health through the gut-brain axis, so it’s a good place to start. Low-inflammation eating full of healthy, low-FODMAP fruits and veggies is an excellent start. Add psychobiotics to give your gut-brain axis an extra boost by supporting the kind of gastrointestinal microbes that help your brain and body perform at their best. 

For example, the right psychobiotics can replenish Bifidobacterium strains, which often become depleted for people with IBS. They also foster a digestive environment that’s less nurturing for harmful bacterial colonies like Clostridium. Psychobiotics help restore balance to your gut bacteria. By rebalancing this bacterial dysbiosis, your IBS and anxiety may both improve. 

Studies show that certain probiotics decrease IBS symptoms while also strengthening the overall immune system and mood. Psychobiotics accomplish this, Dr. Mark Hyman reminds us, by helping your gut produce more mood-raising neurotransmitters. In a 2020 study, researchers divided volunteers into two groups, giving one group a placebo and the other a psychobiotic blend containing strains like Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Lactobacillus plantarum. Over 12 weeks, the group members taking the psychobiotic displayed differences in how their bodies produced cytokines (indicating inflammation) and also showed improvements in their anxiety levels. Interestingly, the people who showed the most psychological improvements shared the same genetic variation, a clue that genetics can help determine one’s response to psychobiotics. 

What to look for in a psychobiotic

Psychobiotics are sold as various custom blends. When you choose a blend, you’ll want to keep an eye out for certain things. Research, including double-blind, randomized trials, shows that Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 is an excellent, all-around bacteria that promotes a healthy gut balance. 

A strain that can help with constipation and IBS-C is Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12®. If you’re more concerned about diarrhea and IBS-D, try to find a product that includes Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast that reduces gut pain and improves regularity. If your IBS is unpredictable or varies a lot, you can seek out all-purpose blends that incorporate Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®, Lactobacillus casei, or Bifidobacterium infantis.

Psychobiotics that target anxiety may contain: 

It may help to think of yourself as a gardener, planting the right microbes in your gut microbiome so your digestion and mental health can flourish. The more good bacterial colonies you grow, the better you’ll generally feel, the more health benefits you’ll reap, and the less you’ll feel impacted by IBS.

When you’re searching for a good psychobiotic, keep in mind that you’ll most likely want:

  • Plenty of colony-forming units (CFUs) of bacteria – you’ll want at least 100 million CFUs per dose; doses can even top billions of CFUs
  • Colonies that haven’t passed their expiration date. Psychobiotics are dynamic, and you’ll want to ensure they’re still viable when you purchase them. Also pay attention to storage instructions – some psychobiotics will do best in the refrigerator or protected from light, so make sure you’re taking care of your microbes properly
  • Independent testing from a third party lab (one that isn’t affiliated with the company that made the probiotic) that checks to ensure high-quality products

Psychobiotics are generally safe for people with IBS, though you may notice a few more side effects here and there as your body adjusts to them. You’ll know your psychobiotics are working well when your gastrointestinal system is less sensitive, any signs of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) decrease, and your anxiousness lowers. 

Start feeling more stable with Salvo Health

At Salvo Health, our digital healthcare platform and virtual clinic provides you with continuous text-based support and care for both IBS and anxiety. Imagine being able to text a board-certified Physician or Behavioral Health Coach to avoid flare-ups or manage your pain. Alongside messaging-based communication, members receive a customized Care Plan that can take account of how their symptoms can be managed, even if they’re feeling anxious. 

Get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health care team, including a certified gastro specialist and board-certified health coach when you join Salvo Health today. 

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