Best Probiotic? “Psychobiotics” May Hold the Answer

Scientists know there’s a link between mental health and probiotics, but pinpointing a “best probiotic” is difficult. Continued studies, however, are positioning so-called psychobiotics as the answer.

best probiotic

Is there such a thing as a best probiotic? Researchers are pointing toward "psychobiotics."

© T.L.Furrer | Dreamstime

Scientists are increasingly interested in the relationship between our body’s natural bacterial flora living in our gut—or “microbiome”—and medical conditions that range from inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease to autism and depression. The microbiome appears to play a greater role in health and disease than previously recognized. Probiotics, defined as “good” bacteria necessary for proper bodily functioning, can be taken in supplement form and are believed to help support a healthy microbiome. But is there a “best probiotic”?

First, consider that there is increasing evidence that having the correct balance of probiotics in the gut is important for good mental health. Researchers from University College Cork in Ireland have reviewed the available scientific data on the role of probiotics in mental health and found studies that suggest probiotics may help control stress and improve mood. In addition, Canadian researchers have found that mice with a healthier gut biome seem to handle stress better.

Probiotics and Balance

Experts are not yet certain exactly how probiotics affect mental health, but they do have some strong theories.

  • It is known, for instance, that gut bacteria are involved in the production of many neurotransmitters, including ones like serotonin that are known to be involved in depression.
  • Probiotics may also play a role in helping to balance the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal, or HPA-axis, the body’s stress regulation system.
  • Finally, probiotics may help block chronic inflammation when it stems from the gut, and inflammation has long been known to play a role in depression.

    For Depression, What Works Best? Probiotics’ Top Prospects

    Unfortunately, it’s less clear as to which is the best probiotic supplement to take in order to help prevent or treat depression. The good news is that there is a considerable amount of research going on in this area. In fact, experts have coined a new term to refer to the best probiotics for helping to alleviate psychiatric conditions such as depression: psychobiotic.

    Specific probiotics that have the greatest amount of evidence supporting their use as a psychobiotic include strains known as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. In fact, taking a supplement containing these three probiotics for eight weeks has been shown to reduce both symptoms of depression and blood markers of inflammation.

    Another probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 has been shown to reduce several measures of psychological distress—including depression, anxiety, and hostility—after only 30 days. This same supplement has been shown to improve the mood of people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.

    One study conducted in stressed-out rats showed that a probiotic containing these two probiotic strains was more effective than the antidepressant citalopram for relieving the rats’ depression and anxiety. That sounds pretty impressive, but before you toss your antidepressants in favor of a probiotic, remember that drugs and supplements can have very different effects in animals than they do in humans. Before concluding that probiotics are better than antidepressants, large studies need to be conducted in people.

    Best Probiotics for Bodily Functions

    Probiotics appear to play a major role not just in mental health but also in overall functioning of the body. Various types of probiotics are currently being investigated for the treatment of a number of medical conditions, including irritable and inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases, infections, and allergies.

    The coming years will be an exciting time as we learn how getting the right combination of little critters living in our guts can help optimize our health and well-being.

    Types of Probiotics

    Probiotics are available in many different formats. There are several supplements on the market in the form of pills, powders, and yogurts. Each contains specific combinations and doses of individual strains of probiotics.

    It’s important to understand that pasteurization can kill healthy bacteria, so the regular yogurt you buy in the grocery store may not contain appreciable amounts of probiotics. For that reason, it’s a good idea to stick with a product that guarantees the presence of a certain number of live bacterial cultures.

    There do not appear to be any significant risks associated with taking a probiotic supplement. As with any supplement, it is always wisest to speak with your doctor before taking it for the first time. But if you’re given the all-clear and want to see whether a probiotic can help your depression, try looking for one that contains the strains listed above, which have been shown to be best for mental health. You should stick with the dose suggested on the label, unless your health care provider suggests something different.

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