We are all aware of the benefits of improving the health of our gut. When the intestinal flora becomes unbalanced through illness, lifestyle, diet, or antibiotic use, it can have serious knock-on effects on our wider health and wellbeing. One of the best ways of improving gut health is by giving the ‘friendly bacteria’ in the gut a boost. There is increasing evidence that this not only improves digestive health; it could also impact how we think and feel emotionally. Researchers have been conducting studies to gain evidence on the big question in gastrointestinal health; can probiotics boost your mood? Let’s have a look at the evidence and what you can do to include probiotics in your daily life, and also what they are.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, bacteria, and yeasts that improve the balance of bacteria in the gut. Our bodies are teeming with different types of bacteria — some are bad for us, but many are beneficial or even essential for life. Probiotics help top up the friendly bacteria. If you imagine your gut a little like a battle where ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria are at war, probiotics are basically like sending in some extra troops to support the good fight.
Probiotics are found naturally in some foods (more on this later!), and they can be taken as supplements. This is often recommended when there is a clear imbalance in gut bacteria, for example, after you have taken a course of antibiotic treatment, which can reduce the numbers of good bacteria in the gut. A healthy balance of both good and bad bacteria in the gut is essential for digestion, a healthy functioning immune system, and many other bodily processes. It is a thriving field of research, and experts are finding new and fascinating ways that probiotics could benefit human health all the time, from positive impacts on cardiovascular health to results that suggest that probiotics can boost your mood.
The Evidence that Probiotics May Boost Your Mood
We know that the brain and the gut are closely interconnected. They are linked by the vagus nerve and communicate via the central nervous system. We see evidence of this every single day; our brain tells us we are hungry or full, and when we get nervous or worried, we experience fluttering feelings in the tummy or experience gastrointestinal symptoms. There is no doubt that the connection between the brain and the gut is a powerful one. So much so, in fact, that the gut is sometimes called the ‘second brain.’ Now researchers have looked at how gut health can impact mood and how probiotics can impact this.
Research published in the medical journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health has indicated that the symptoms of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety could potentially be reduced by the careful use of probiotics to improve gut health. In a number of separate studies, medical researchers gave participants probiotic supplements for a number of weeks. All of the studies showed that probiotics helped with the symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Foods to Support Good Gut Health
There are several foods that deliver probiotics to the gut and support a healthy gut microbiome. These probiotic foods do not deliver large numbers of probiotics, and research into whether probiotics boost your mood has focused on delivering more significant numbers of probiotic cultures via supplements. However, eating probiotic foods is a gentle, natural way to support the gut microbiome and promote gastrointestinal health. Many of these foods have been fermented. Foods containing probiotics include the following:
- Yogurt — choose ‘live,’ natural yogurt.
- Kombucha — a fermented tea drink
- Kefir — a fermented yogurt drink.
- Kimchi — a spicy seasoned cabbage dish from Korea
- Sauerkraut — fermented shredded cabbage.
- Miso – fermented Japanese soybean paste used for seasoning or soup
- Tempeh – a fermented soybean food.
Adding some of these foods to your diet could be a simple way to use probiotics to boost your mood. However, if you want to help heal imbalance and recolonize your gut with good bacteria and experience the wide range of health benefits that come with a healthy gut, probiotic supplements are a good way to do this.
In order for probiotics to boost your mood, you have to choose a high-quality probiotic supplement that you can trust to deliver the right strains of bacteria to where you need them. The strains of bacteria that you choose will depend on your own unique health needs. Perhaps you are trying to recolonize after heavy antibiotic use, want to heal after gastrointestinal illness, or are dealing with other health issues. Perhaps you are suffering from a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety and want to investigate the power of probiotics to boost your mood. There are many different strains of probiotic bacteria, and each may have different benefits for your health. It is advisable to get advice from a doctor, nutritionist, or gut specialist, or you may want to try a broad-spectrum probiotic. Whichever you choose, always opt for the best quality probiotic you can get.
Dietary Fiber for Gut Health
The gut loves dietary fiber, and yet many of us do not eat enough of it. If you are taking probiotics, you will want to ensure that you are eating enough fiber to improve the digestion process and feed those good bacteria so that they thrive long enough to do their jobs! Eating enough fiber helps with gut motility, moving the digestion process along and forming healthy stools so that the body. It can also have a protective impact against many illnesses and diseases.
Research is still continuing into the benefits of probiotics to boost your mood, but the evidence is strong, and the other benefits of probiotics have been proven time and time again. For general health and for mental health, probiotics are a winner.