Do Probiotics Help with Mental Well-Being and Everyday Stress?
The term “probiotics” has become somewhat of a buzzword these days. With well over a thousand identified strains of these healthy bacteria residing in our gut, we often associate them with digestive health, but did you know that probiotics also play a key role in mental well-being and mood balance?*
In today’s modern world, stress is a common part of life, with long-reaching effects in all areas of health including that of the intestinal microbiota.
The relationship between gut bacteria and the brain, also known as the gut-brain axis, has been investigated over the past handful of years, and suggests that gut microbiota may influence mood and the ability to cope with stress and mental well-being.*
How are they linked?
Probiotics influence the body’s response to common stress and support emotional well-being in a number of ways, both psychologically and physiologically.*
Commonplace terms such as “butterflies in your stomach” and “gut instinct” are two examples of the direct relationship between stress and our intestinal tract that we can experience on a physiological level. The body can also react to stress with temporary nausea, abdominal discomfort, and occasional diarrhea, all of which are influenced by the relationship between gut bacteria and the brain.*
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, volunteers experiencing stress took a probiotic supplement with strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Participants had a significant reduction in temporary stress-related abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting compared to the placebo.
Psychologically, probiotics play an important role in the body’s response to stress by moderating body pathways supporting brain function, and through effects on various brain chemicals such as serotonin already within the normal range.* Communities of intestinal bacteria that make up the microbiota help synthesize neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, catecholamines, and acetylcholine, which modulate brain function and behavior  and are necessary for healthy mood balance.* A significant amount of serotonin is produced in the gut, further emphasizing the need to support a healthy microbiota.*
What are the best probiotic strains to support mood?*
Despite there being thousands of beneficial strains of bacteria in the body, two strains in particular have shown to have a positive impact on supporting mental well-being and the negative effects of temporary stress by working on the gut-brain axis.*
Lactobacillus helveticus (R0052) and Bifidobacterium longum (R0175) appear to be especially effective in modulating mood during stressful periods.* In one double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, parallel group study, healthy adults who took 3 billion colony forming units (cfus) of this probiotic combination for 30 days had significant decreases in scores on two psychological distress tests. Average urinary levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) also decreased, suggesting physiological benefits.* 
We may not be able to eradicate stress entirely from our lives, but there are ways to help the body cope. Practicing relaxation techniques, consuming more fermented foods, and taking a strain-specific probiotic supplement are great ways to keep your body healthy and your mood happy during times of stress.*
- Diop L, Guillou S, Durand H. Nutrition Research. 2008 Jan; 28(1), l-5. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19083380
- Wall R, Cryan JF, Ross RP, et al. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014; 817, 221-39. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24997036
- Messaoudi M, Violle N, Bisson JF, et al.Gut Microbes. 2011 July-Aug; 2(4), 256-261. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21983070