Probiotics have long been touted as a cure-all. Proponents essentially believe that if you can reset your gut health, all else will follow. And while it's true that when you're gut's in good shape, many other facets of your well-being follow suit, the efficacy of probiotics to treat a number of ills has been called into question. One such query is whether it's possible to use probiotics for anxiety. Our microbiomes have the power to influence so much about how we feel and the caliber at which the rest of our body functions—so why not help to inform our brain?
"It has been theorized that changes in intestinal bacteria may play a role in neuropsychiatric conditions such as anxiety or depression," notes pediatric gastroenterologist Athos Bousvaros, MD, MPH, in an article on the Harvard Medical School health blog. He goes on to explain how it's believed that the brain and the gut can "talk" to each other. "Therefore, it is possible that anxiety and depression may trigger abdominal pain or other GI symptoms," he says. After all, we're all familiar with feeling sick to our stomachs when we're nervous. But Bousvaros asserts that the relationship might work both ways. "It is also possible that gastrointestinal conditions such as chronic abdominal pain or constipation might also result in anxiety or depression."
For this reason, it's theorized that managing one's gut health—say, with probiotics—could help assuage anxiety. Though the correlation seems to have promising implications for treatment, the research hasn't yielded concrete results. Bousvaros cites a relatively recent article in Annals of General Psychiatry that reviewed available medical literature on the subject of using probiotics to treat anxiety and depression, focusing on 10 studies that were blinded and placebo-controlled. "The results of these studies were mixed; some suggested that there may be mild benefits of taking probiotics if you have anxiety or depression, while other studies showed no benefit," recounts Bousvaros. "Overall, the authors concluded 'the clinical effects of probiotics on mental health have yet to be studied comprehensively.'"
So while it's certainly true that the brain "talks" to the gut and that our microbiomes have a great influence on our health and how we feel, it remains inconclusive whether taking probiotics can be an effective natural remedy for anxiety.