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Can Probiotics Really Boost Your Mood?

Probiotics have earned a reputation as all-stars for foundational health. Found in capsules, gummies, teas, and, of course, fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, these beneficial bacteria have been linked with all sorts of wellness perks, from reducing constipation to supporting healthy blood sugar. If supplements were a sports team, probiotics would clearly be on the starting lineup.

Lately, you may have even heard that some of these healthy gut bugs can boost your mood. Indeed, a variety of probiotic products has arisen to address the symptoms of mental health concerns like low mood and feelings of anxiety. But can targeting your gut really change your mind? We turned to experts to get the facts. 

Probiotics and Mood Improvements

Introducing friendly bacteria into the gut makes sense for rectifying digestive health. But why might doing so have benefits for your emotional well-being? “There appear to be a number of ways that probiotics impact mental health,” says registered dietitian Kim Kulp, R.D.N., a gut health expert and owner of Gut Health Connection in the San Francisco Bay Area

One exemplary piece of the puzzle: Certain strains of beneficial bacteria (specifically L. helveticus and B. longum) seem to increase levels of protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has an inverse relationship with low mood, according to Kulp. BDNF has also been linked with greater neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adjust, learn, and remember). This mental plasticity may help us overcome the rut of rumination we often get into with depression.   

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Taking Probiotics

Another reason why probiotics may affect mood: They help support overall balance in the body. “Probiotics decrease CRP (C-reactive protein), which is a marker of inflammation,” Kulp points out. Several studies have linked depression and anxiety with out-of-balance inflammation.

Additionally, probiotics can support the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. “In stress and anxiety, it’s believed that the microbes in the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum P8 lead to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that can positively change how the brain functions,” Kulp says.

Is Every Probiotic Good for Mood?

If you’re looking for a probiotic to mend your mind, it’s important not to grab any old bottle off the shelf. Probiotics come in different strains—not all of which have been associated with elevating mood. “The latest clinical trials and meta-analyses are indicating that various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics, specifically, can improve mental health, mostly in the realm of low mood,” says gut health-focused dietitian Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T., of Wholistic Living.

According to Volpe, Lactobacillus strains that have evidence for effectiveness in improving mood include:

  • Lactobacillus (L.) casei
  • L. acidophilus
  • L. bulgaricus
  • L. brevis
  • L. helveticus
  • L. salivarius
  • L. lactis
  • L. rhamnosus

And Bifidobacterium probiotics shown to be helpful include: 

  • Bifidobacterium (B.) bifidum
  • B. longum
  • B. lactis

As for feelings of anxiety, you may want to check out Lactobacillus plantarum P8.One small study showed that Lactobacillus plantarum P8 improved stress and feelings of anxiety,” Kulp notes.

In general, once you’ve selected a supplement that contains the strain(s) you’re looking for, start with at least 1 billion CFU per day. The main thing to remember here is to select a strain that’s been studied for its positive effects on mental health and to take it regularly. A few popular go-to’s: ProBioCare Mood Probiotics with Prebiotics (50 Billion), Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Mood+ Probiotics (50 Billion), and Amen Mood Probiotic+ (15 Billion).

You might also prefer to eat your way to better vibes. “Adding functional probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, raw fermented sauerkraut, raw fermented pickles, raw fermented kimchi, and/or kefir into the diet is a cost-effective way to support mental health,” Volpe shares. 

Read More: How To Pickle And Ferment Your Own Foods

The only downside there: You may not know whether certain foods contain bacterial strains specific to mental health. But since probiotic foods in general appear to have inflammation-balancing effects, you may still be doing your brain (and your mood) a favor.

Other Natural Ways to Boost Mood

Probiotics can be worth a shot for raising your spirits or calming anxiety, but they’re not the only way to naturally bring your mood into balance. Other supplements and lifestyle choices play a major role in helping you feel your emotional best.

For starters, your overall nutrition contributes to mood more than you might realize. “Certain types of nutritional deficiencies, left unchecked, can lead to or worsen symptoms of depression,” Volpe says. Low vitamin B12, for example, can leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic, while low blood sugar can mimic the symptoms of anxiety. “Eating three balanced meals a day and staying hydrated are two fundamental habits which could potentially impact mood, energy, focus, and even gut health,” she explains.

Read More: 4 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Lead to Low Mood

Consider checking in on your vitamin D status, too. “Optimizing vitamin D levels, whether through natural sunlight or vitamin D3 supplementation, as needed, has also been shown to help reduce low mood,” says Volpe. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation might also be beneficial.

Lastly, regular exercise is an evidence-based go-to for reducing depression and anxiety. Spending quality time with friends and family could also keep you at a higher mental baseline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when we’re socially connected, we’re more likely to experience better mental health.

The Bottom Line

While probiotics aren’t a one-stop shop for better mental and emotional health, they can be a helpful part of your approach. “I believe, in most cases, it could be worth trying a probiotic for improving mental health and wellness,” Volpe says. Again, just be sure to choose one with research backing its effectiveness for your condition (and enlist your healthcare provider’s input as you do so). 

It’s worth noting, too, that the science around probiotics and mood is still young. “We are just starting to understand which probiotics are best for each condition, and how they actually help,” says Kulp. “So far, most studies have been very small. If you’re struggling with mental health, it’s important to talk to your doctor.” A holistic approach, as always, is your best bet for bringing your heart and mind into balance.

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