Probiotics aren't anything new, but you probably first heard about them in yogurt ads. In addition to aiding a healthy gut as the yogurt ads claim, did you know that probiotics are a scientifically proven way to help with depression and anxiety? Your gut is considered your "second brain" and roughly 90% to 95% of all the body's serotonin—one of the naturally occurring chemicals that makes you feel good—is produced there. Unfortunately, if the delicate balance of bacteria that provides serotonin gets disrupted, it can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
As someone who's spoken to a lot of different nutritionists, the use of probiotics often comes up as something most people should be doing. But it can be a complicated area to understand. What do they do? Why should you take one? How do you take them? So I turned to Kerry Madgwick, a clinical nutritionist who regularly encourages her clients to take probiotics. I also looked at the most recent studies in hopes of educating myself on the best way to add probiotics to a daily routine.
Keep scrolling for a comprehensive guide on probiotics, as well as the best ones to take.
Meet the Expert
Kerry Madgwick is a Kent-based holistic nutritionist and founder of Kerry's Natural Health Solutions. Her specialties include healing issues with low energy, bloating, negative body image, and lack of confidence.
The Basics of Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms, namely bacteria and yeast, that are beneficial for your health. Our bodies are full of bacteria—both "good" (like probiotics) and "bad" (like infection- and disease-causing strains). Probiotics can be found naturally in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha, but they're also available in dietary supplements and often in capsule form.
From aiding digestive problems to increasing the level of serotonin in the body, probiotics appear to be microscopic miracle workers. For example, in 2017 a team of researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine discovered that upon feeding depressed mice the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus, they reversed the depression symptoms.
How Probiotics Work
But how can a small pill or serving of yogurt containing millions of bacteria help your mood? It works like this: Probiotics positively affect the gut by "decreasing stress signaling in the body and possibly even increasing the transformation of the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin in the brain."
For further information on the benefits of probiotics, I spoke to Madgwick about how she's worked with her clients who have anxiety and depression. After taking them for a few months, many of those with depression and anxiety reported feeling better. "When people are depressed, they are less likely to want to interact socially and find themselves struggling with low energy levels; however, after taking probiotics, they noticed increased energy levels which means they've been able to get out more."
The Right Probiotic for You
This is where it gets a bit tricky. According to Madgwick, you need to find out which strain of bacteria you need for your own body—which can only really be discovered by speaking to a nutritionist about your symptoms and then working out which one is right for you.
But if you want to try purchasing a probiotic supplement directly from a health food store, then there are a few rules to note:
1. Check how the supplement is stored: You want it to be refrigerated since live bacteria will die otherwise.
2. Check the number of organisms or "colony-forming units" (CPUs): Look for the number count on the bottle—when it comes to probiotics, it's the more, the merrier.
3. Check the strains: Preferably, this is what you'd speak to a nutritionist about. However, one 2016 study—which saw the benefits of taking probiotics for depression and anxiety—used the following strains: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum—all of which you can buy in health food shops.
There are many different types of probiotics available, but it all depends on the strain that is right for your body.
Always consult your doctor before adding a new supplement to your diet or daily routine.
Yano JM, Yu K, Donaldson GP, et al. Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. Cell. 2015;161(2):264-76. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.047
Marin IA, Goertz JE, Ren T, et al. Microbiota alteration is associated with the development of stress-induced despair behavior. Sci Rep. 2017;7:43859. doi:10.1038/srep43859
Akkasheh G, Kashani-poor Z, Tajabadi-ebrahimi M, et al. Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition. 2016;32(3):315-20. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2015.09.003