Probiotics, which promise to boost “good” bacteria, have exploded into the world of healthy living in recent years. The body is home to colonies of millions of bacteria that help you digest food, fight infections, and even help you grow. Probiotics may also improve mental health. A small study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity has found that people who take probiotics tend to ruminate less on negative feelings.
Probiotics for Better Mental Health
Researchers gave 40 participants a pouch filled with a powdery solution, with half receiving a placebo and the other half getting a probiotic. Participants met with researchers once at the beginning of the experiment and again four weeks later. During both meetings, participants completed a questionnaire that tested their depression levels.
Those who took probiotics were, at the end of the four-week period, less likely to engage in negative ruminations. Ruminating on negative thoughts is a hallmark of depression, and the tendency to fixate on the negative may even cause depression. The study did not explore the possibility that probiotics might cure or reduce depression, but its authors highlight the need for more research into the ways the right internal bacterial balance may affect mental health.
Gut Health and Depression
For decades, research on depression has focused on the brain as the origin of the condition. Contemporary researchers have now begun taking a look at the gut. Research on mice suggests that the right gut bacteria balance could reduce anxiety. Other research suggests that chronic gastrointestinal inflammation might play a role in depression. If probiotics do help people feel happier, it could be because they’re restoring the right bacterial balance to the gastrointestinal tract.
Previous research has found that probiotics can reduce the frequency and severity of genital yeast infections, diarrhea, and urinary tract infections, offering a strong incentive to give probiotics a try.
- Feher, J., Kovacs, I., and Balacco Gabrielli, C. (2011). Role of gastrointestinal inflammations in the development and treatment of depression [Abstract]. Orvosi Hetilap, 152(37), 1477-1485. doi:10.1556/OH.2011.29166.
- Health benefits of taking probiotics. (2005, September 1). Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics
- Law, B. M. (2005, November). Probing the depression-rumination cycle. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov05/cycle.aspx
- People less focused on recurrent bad feelings when taking probiotics. (2015, April 14). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414083718.htm
- Rettner, R. (2014, December 24). Gut feeling? Probiotics may ease anxiety and depression. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/49248-gut-bacteria-mental-health.html
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