No, it's not antibiotics for crazy people.
Irish scientists coined the term 'psychobiotic' in 2013 referring to a type of probiotic bacteria that had a positive effect on people's mood.
Since then, specific probiotic strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been studied for their impact on mood health.
The gut bacteria: transferring the blues
This new area of research began when scientists found that when gut bacteria from anxious mice (yes, apparently they exist) were given to regular mice, the regular mice began acting anxious.
The recently-happy mice suddenly began exhibiting symptoms of depression: anxiety-like behaviors, social withdrawal, and reluctance to do micey things that they otherwise liked (looking for cheese? Hamster wheel, perhaps?)
They also noticed that mice with poorly developed gut microbiome freaked out (they called it 'exaggerated response') to ordinary stressors. Sounds like mice road rage.
Obviously, we can't randomly inject bacteria into people to find out if this works on humans too. Not ethically, anyway.
Works on mice. What about humans?
We have pretty good proof that this work on mice. But how about us humans?
The best evidence we have so far comes from Belgium. Scientists there (brace yourself) measured the types of bacteria in poop - of 1000 depressed and non-depressed people.
Turns out there are big differences.
Specifically, two types of bacteria, Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus bacteria were consistently associated with better moods and higher quality of life indicators. Where as Dialister and Coprococcus were very low in depressed people. None of these are available as supplements. It's early days.
So what happens in your gut may affect your brain, too.
Then the next question is: can probiotics improve mood?
It seems so.
But here's the catch...
For a probiotic to help with mood, it must be strain specific and condition specific.
What do we mean by that?
Example: you've heard of Bifidobacterium longum. There are several strains of this bacteria. They're not all the same.
Bifidobacterium is the genus; longum is the species. And Rosell-175 is the strain. This particular strain was developed at the Rosell Institute and studied extensively for mood health properties. It has no known benefits for skin health or urinary tract infections. But it's been shown to have an impact on mood.
Same for Lactobacillus helveticus 52ND, Bacillus coagulans MCTT 5856 and Bifidobacterium longum 1714.
Other bugs noted to have an association with mood:
- Lactobacillus casei subsp Shirota
- Bifidobacterium bifidum W23
- Bifidobacterium lactis W52
- Lactobacillus acidophilus W37
- Lactobacillus brevis W63
- Lactobacillus casei W56
- Lactobacilus salivarius W24
- Lactococcus lactis (W19 and W58)
- Bifidobacterium animalis
- Streptococcus thermophiles
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactococcus lactis
Not all probiotics influence mood. L. rhamnosus JB-1 has been shown to have no effect on behavior. This is because different probiotics have different mechanisms of action.
Stress? There's a bug for that.
Of course, we say that tongue in cheek.
In fact, Bifidobacterium longum 1714 is a promising bacterial strain that has shown benefits in making adults immune to stress. As of this writing, this probiotic is not available in the US.
All of this has not gone unnoticed by Big Pharma. Just like there are prescription fish oils, there will likely be prescription psychobiotics in a decade or so. There are several drug companies busily working on making this a reality.
Don't forget Prebiotic fiber
The most studied prebiotics (these are fibers that probiotic bacteria consume as food) for boosting mood health are fructans and oligosaccharides.
This means that providing your gut bacteria the right food may be important for supporting a healthier brain, too.
In addition, including fermentable dietary fibers in your menus will help you to reduce cravings for salty and sweet foods.
The same Irish scientists have expanded the definition of psychobiotics beyond probiotics to include prebiotics and other means of influencing your gut bacteria for the benefit of mental health.
(Even exercise is being viewed as a psychobiotic due to its positive influence on gut microbiome diversity.)
To be fair, the research behind prebiotic and mood is still emerging. It's difficult to say with certainty how well these fibers influence mood. It is likely that there may be a specific type of fiber that works better than others. We'll have to wait and see.
These new ways supporting mood health works for both depressed and healthy people.
- Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety have multiple causes, but are also associated with disturbances in your gut microbiota.
- Probiotics and prebiotics can do more than improve your gut health. They may boost your mental health.
- Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Mood by microbe: towards clinical translation. Genome Med. 2016; 8(1):36. doi: 10.1186/s13073-016-0292-1.
- Kelly JR, Borre Y, O’ Brien C, et al. Transferring the blues: Depression-associated gut microbiota induces neurobehavioural changes in the rat. J Psychiatr Res. 2016; 82:109-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.07.019.
- Valles-Colomer M, Falony G, Darzi Y, et al. The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. Nat Microbiol. 2019; 4(4):623-32. doi: 10.1038/s41564-018-0337-x.
- Dinan TG, Stanton C, Cryan JF. Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic. Biol Psychiatry. 2013; 74(10):720-6. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.001.
- Liu RT, Walsh RFL, Sheehan AE. Prebiotics and probiotics for depression and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019; 102:13-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.023.
- Sarkar A, Lehto SM, Harty S, et al. Psychobiotics and the manipulation of bacteria-gut-brain signals. Trends Neurosci. 2016; 39(11):763-81. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002.
- Wang H, Braun C, Murphy EF, Enck P. Bifidobacterium longum 1714TM strain modulates brain activity of healthy volunteers during social stress. Am J Gastroenterol. 2019. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000000203.
- Hiel S, Bindels LB, Pachikian BD, et al. Effects of a diet based on inulin-rich vegetables on gut health and nutritional behavior in healthy humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019; 109(6):1683-95. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz001.
- Lawson, C. (2016, May 23). Understanding psychobiotics: John F. Cryan | WIRED Health preview. Retrieved May 1, 2019, from http://www.wired.co.uk/article/john-f-cryan
- Rogers, G. B., Keating, D. J., Young, R. L., Wong, M. L., Licinio, J., & Wesselingh, S. (2016). From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways. Molecular psychiatry, 21(6), 738-748
- Gregoire, C. (2016, November 10). How ‘Psychobiotics’ Use Gut Bacteria To Treat Mental Illness. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gut-bacteria-mental-health_us_581770a7e4b064e1b4b3a842
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