The Benefits of Probiotics Are Well-Documented — But Can They Improve Mental Health? Probiotics for Mental Health: where we stand today.
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- There are trillions of bacteria in your gut that help you digest your food and keep your immune system in check
- It’s well-established that gut bacteria plays a tremendous role in your overall health, but an emerging body of research indicates that it could play a role in mental health as well
- Some people have claimed that changing their diet and taking probiotic supplements has helped them manage their symptoms of anxiety and depression
- But how much do we actually know about the link between gut health and mental health to begin with?
When Emeran A. Mayer, M.D., was in med school in 1973, he spent a summer working in the digestive disease division at Mass General Hospital in Boston. It was there where he noticed something that would change his career. “Many patients were admitted to investigate chronic abdominal pain symptoms, but diagnostic exams were negative,” he says. “Taking a history of patients, it became clear to me that many of these patients had increased anxiety, depression, and stress levels.”
When Mayer, who went on to write the book The Mind-Gut Connection, began his research, the relationship between gut health and mental health was a fairly niche area of medicine. But today, researchers are now starting to fully understand what he’d observed back in the 1970s: that changes in your gut bacteria could lead to changes not only in your immune and nervous system, but also in your brain, potentially playing a role in mental health issues like anxiety, depression, stress, and fear.
The so-called “gut-brain axis” (also known as the “gut-brain connection” or “mind-gut connection”) is a major part of the health vernacular, to the point that some psychiatrists have started recommending probiotic supplements to patients. Some people have even claimed that changing their diet and taking probiotics helped them “cure” their anxiety and depression. Taking probiotics and prebiotics “gave me my life back,” one woman with a history of anxiety attacks wrote on Reddit.
But how much do we actually know about the relationship between gut health and mental health? Here’s how the bugs in your gut and your mind are connected — and what scientists on the front lines hope is next.
What is the gut-brain axis?
The trillions of bacteria in your gut make up what’s known as the gut microbiome. They are, more or less, your friends, helping you digest food and keep your immune system in check, explains Glenn Treisman, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Read more