Tension. Pervasive worry. Fear. Heart palpitations. Impaired sleep.
If you suffer from anxiety, chances are you have experienced one or all of these symptoms. Sometimes, when symptoms have gone unchecked far too long, anti-anxiety medications are necessary and provide tremendous relief.
If you are self-aware and mindful of your body, many times you can intercept these symptoms before medications become necessary. Once you become stabilized on anti-anxiety medications, you can consider “Are there probiotics for anxiety?” or “Is there something I can take in addition to my medication to feel even better?”.
Although my story is different now, for many years, I did not listen to the signs my body was giving me. My body eventually turned on the “emergency service needed” light and I had to react. After my anti-anxiety medications brought me back down to planet earth, I started to learn about and implement natural solutions for anxiety.
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Prevalence of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common forms of mental illness, affecting up to 30% of American adults at some point in their lives. A worldwide study in 2020 found that 1 in 9 people suffered from anxiety in the previous year.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Common symptoms of anxiety include pervasive worry, fear, tension, and other physical changes such as heart palpitations, tremors, gastrointestinal and respiratory issues. When anxiety is excessive and uncontrolled, it can lead to serious adverse health concerns, such as sleep disorders, increased risk of heart disease, and substance abuse.
The Microbiome & Gut Brain Axis
The gut-brain-axis (GBX) is a bidirectional pathway that exists between the gastrointestinal tract (gut) and the brain. I like to think of this path as an interstate highway that is transporting essential information back and forth between two very important destinations.
The microbiome, which weighs nearly four pounds and lives mostly in our gastrointestinal tract, is composed of trillions of microorganisms and genes. Maintaining a healthy and balanced microbiome is essential for optimal function of our central nervous system (CNS). The CNS can alter our mood, behavior, and stress response, either positively or negatively, depending on the health of our microbiome.
When the gut is in an unbalanced state, also known as gut dysbiosis, a host of issues may arise. The blood brain barrier, a semipermeable lining that separates the CNS from the peripheral blood in your body, becomes compromised. When this happens, the gut lining loses its protective ability.
With leaky gut, food and food-derived substances cross over the blood brain barrier and create a state of inflammation throughout the body. This often leads to many of the psychological symptoms previously noted, including anxiety. More information about leaky gut can be found in this comprehensive blog post by The Waistline Dietitian, Laura Krauza.
Probiotics and Anxiety
Diet is one of the most significant, controllable influences on maintaining gut health. Consuming a diet rich in both probiotics and prebiotics has a potentially therapeutic effect against mood disorders, such as anxiety.
Currently, human studies are available but limited on the topic of probiotic effects on anxiety. However, when combining all of the studies in the past 10 years on both humans and animals (specifically mice), probiotics appear to have a positive effect on improving CNS function, including anti-anxiety effects.
What Are Probiotics
Probiotics, found in both food and supplement form, offer the host (your body) beneficial bacteria that improve the health of the microbiome. Prebiotics compliment probiotics by helping the healthy bacteria grow and flourish. To learn more about foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics, check out my blog post, The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics.
Proven Probiotics for Anxiety Reduction
A 2016 study reviewed the effects of probiotics on the CNS in randomized controlled trials of both animals and humans, finding probiotics to be effective in improving CNS function, including anxiety, depression, mood, stress response and memory:
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bifidobacterium helveticus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus casei
Studies show that probiotic blends containing multiple strains of compatible probiotics are more effective than single strain doses, especially when combining such probiotic blends with their prebiotic counterparts.
Colony Forming Units (CFU’s)
Colony forming units (CFU’s) represent the number of active microbial cells in one serving of a probiotic supplement. However, when it comes to CFU’s in probiotics, bigger isn’t necessarily better. It’s important to consider quality, efficacy, and most importantly, what your body needs.
When starting a new probiotic, it’s important to not only choose the right probiotic but also the right strength. Most probiotics contain on average between 1 billion and 10 billion CFU’s per serving. Introducing a new, good bacteria to your gut too quickly, may cause negative side effects, such as bloating, diarrhea or abdominal discomfort.
While you may see probiotics with as few as several million CFU’s and as high as 200 billion, a safe starting place for most individuals is between 3 and 10 billion CFU’s daily. The maintenance dose of CFU’s depends on several variables, including your individual needs. Therefore, it may be best to seek advice from a provider that is knowledgeable on the topic, although probiotic supplementation is generally recognized as safe, for most individuals.
My Top 4 Probiotics for Anxiety Relief
*Items marked with an asterisk are affiliate links. If you purchase through this link, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you
- *Mentabiotics by Amare Global
- Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics by Essential Formulas
- Optimal Biotics by Optimal Living Dynamics
- Probiotic & Prebiotic by Earth’s Pearl
No one should have to live with pervasive worry, fear, tension or the cascade of other physical symptoms that are common with anxiety. Sometimes natural solutions are not quite enough to tackle severe symptoms of anxiety, but many time they do provide substantial relief to anxiety sufferers. You can try probiotics alone or in addition to prescription medications, depending on what works best for your individual situation. Here’s to an anxiety-free life!
The purpose of this information is to inform and empower the reader to make positive lifestyle changes. The intent is not to replace medical advice or instructions given by your doctor or healthcare provider.
Chao, Limin et al. “Effects of Probiotics on Depressive or Anxiety Variables in Healthy Participants Under Stress Conditions or With a Depressive or Anxiety Diagnosis: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Frontiers in neurology vol. 11 421. 22 May. 2020, doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.00421
Pirbaglou M, Katz J, de Souza RJ, Stearns JC, Motamed M, Ritvo P. Probiotic supplementation can positively affect anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Res. 2016 Sep;36(9):889-898. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.06.009. Epub 2016 Jun 21. PMID: 27632908.
Reis, Daniel J et al. “The anxiolytic effect of probiotics: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the clinical and preclinical literature.” PloS one vol. 13,6 e0199041. 20 Jun. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0199041
Wang H, Lee IS, Braun C, Enck P. Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2016 Oct 30;22(4):589-605. doi: 10.5056/jnm16018. PMID: 27413138; PMCID: PMC5056568.
Zhu S, Jiang Y, Xu K, Cui M, Ye W, Zhao G, Jin L, Chen X. The progress of gut microbiome research related to brain disorders. J Neuroinflammation. 2020 Jan 17;17(1):25. doi: 10.1186/s12974-020-1705-z. PMID: 31952509; PMCID: PMC6969442.
Angela Lewis Lago MS, RDN, LDN is a Registered Dietitian. She specialized in Clinical Nutrition Management , Malnutrition, Gut Health and Mental Wellness. Angela holds a Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.