Psychobiotics and Anxiety

Given the current uncertainty, it’s natural that many of us are feeling quite anxious, but there is no denying that for some people, myself included, anxiety is a bit of an ongoing struggle. Whether it’s just low level, constant worry about things that are beyond our control or something more debilitating, it’s safe to say those with anxiety are finding the times we’re in particularly difficult.

I thought it might be a good idea to share, as a follow-on from my post on the links between gut health and mental health, a closer look at anxiety and the impact of probiotics, in particular psychobiotics in managing the symptoms.

But first, what on Earth are psychobiotics? Essentially, this term refers to probiotics (aka good gut bacteria) with mental health benefits. The gut-brain connection as per my last post is well recognised, but there is more research looking at the use of probiotics specifically for conferring neural (aka brain) effects. Research has show that the use of psychobiotics have wide reaching implications for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to Autism, and even anxiety.

If you know a bit about anxiety, you’ll know that general anxiety disorder is the most frequently reported common mental health problem in England (1).  Many of us feel worried, afraid or anxious at times, but for some these feelings take over and can manifest in panic attacks or distressing behaviours that feel hard to control. Whether you’re experiencing mild or more several symptoms of anxiety, it is important to think about how best to manage these symptoms in order to minimise their impact on everyday life, and it looks like starting with your diet and your gut is a pretty great place to make some adjustments.

This form of probiotics has shown to regulate neurotransmitters and hormones, as well as have an overall effect on mood. There are links between psychobiotics to improved mental and cognitive health and more specifically, for anxiety there are a few strains that have been shown to improve anxiety symptoms, in particular, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, but also others such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus hevelticus and Lactobacillus caesi, as well as, Biffidobacterium longum. I’m speaking Latin here (literally, but hang on it will makes more sense in a moment).

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is one of the many strains of lactobacillus found in the gut and also a popular species to include in probiotic supplements. Supplementing and already balanced and healthy diet with L. rhamnosus has been shown to lower anxiety, reduce stress-induced anxiety by altering the production neurological receptors, making them more receptive to neurotransmitters (such as GABA) in the central nervous system (2, 3, 4, 5, 7). It has also been shown to be as effective at treating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as common SSRi antidepressant treatments (6). It is also good at surviving acidic environments, means that it can handle transit via the intestinal tract and is able to make it itself at home in the intestinal walls. (8)

So where can you find these bacterial strains? Well, Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurts (check your labels), cheese ( it plays an important role in the maturing process), milk kefir, and other dairy products or it can also be taken in supplements.  If you are going down the supplement route, my advice is to always choose organic and start with a low dose build up once your gut has a handle on things.

Now that I have stopped throwing Latin at you might be wondering, what is your point. Well, the point, if you struggle with or know someone who struggles with anxiety, it might be worth taking a closer look the research and try to get more of these foods and these particular strains of psychobiotic bacteria into your diet. The End.

(1) https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.XYIhkXdFxYe

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879690

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5225647/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24257436

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4200314/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15933002

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