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Probiotics and Mental Health

We can all agree that what’s on your plate will directly affect your general health. Though scientists have long known that the microbes living in our guts affect our health either positively or negatively, they are conducting studies to determine whether using probiotics to adjust the gut microbiome can improve symptoms of mental illness

We can all agree that what’s on your plate will directly affect your general health. Though scientists have long known that the microbes living in our guts affect our health either positively or negatively, they are conducting studies to determine whether using probiotics to adjust the gut microbiome can improve symptoms of mental illness. But do you really know what probiotics are? Probiotics are living bacteria or yeast that live in our bodies. Most people understand bacteria as disease-causing organisms, but there are two kinds of bacteria in our bodies – good bacteria and bad bacteria. In this case, we put our concentration on the good bacteria- probiotics.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics are good bacteria that exist naturally in food like kimchi and yogurt. It is safe to eat foods that are rich in probiotics since they improve gastrointestinal health. Probiotics can also be found in powder form or pills. They are believed to enhance digestive health and are used to treat bloating and diarrhea. Other benefits of probiotics include:

  • Producing antimicrobial substances
  • Enhancing the body’s immune system
  • Fermenting fiber in the food to produce nutrients for the cells that line the intestines

The Rise of Probiotics

Recently, probiotics have gained popularity since they are believed to improve symptoms of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and obesity. Taking probiotics in pill or powder form can enhance your health by adjusting your gut microbiome – the collection of bacteria, fungi, and yeast found in your gastrointestinal tract.

However, more research is needed to understand the interaction of probiotics with naturally occurring bacteria. The major connection researchers are trying to understand is how the gut affects the brain and mental problems. But as researchers try to learn more about these connections, probiotics are gaining popularity. They are marketed with the hope that they can improve symptoms of mental illness, improve digestive function, help in weight loss, and lower cholesterol.

The Link between the Gut and the Brain

In most cases, the gut is the last place in treating mental illness. Still, the fact is that when you understand the microbiome, it becomes easy to find the issues such as inflammation that can affect your brain, causing mental challenges such as depression. The research done so far proves a connection between gut health, microbiome, and mental health. Gut health not only improves symptoms of anxiety but also improves symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. There is also ongoing research on whether probiotics can help improve symptoms of autism. Probiotics used to improve brain function are known as psychobiotics.

Some researchers have said that besides knowing that gut microbiomes are critical in ensuring that we are healthy, including producing vitamins in our gut, protecting us from germs, and enhancing digestion, probiotics will soon be prescribed to patients with anxiety and depression.

A study published in Gastroenterology found that 64% of individuals with mild or severe anxiety or depression who used probiotics for 6 weeks experienced fewer depressive symptoms than 32% of those who opted for an inactive placebo. MRI imaging showed that people who used probiotics had noticeable changes in areas of the brain associated with mood. The researchers believe that probiotics have antidepressant properties. When taken alongside prescribed medication, probiotics can also reduce many attacks in individuals with bipolar disorder.

Pick Your Probiotics Carefully

The main problem with probiotics is non-consistency. You can never be sure of what you are getting. FDA considers probiotics as food supplements instead of drugs. Therefore, there isn’t much regulation on how they are made or whether they contain whatever they have indicated. In the U.S, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are the most commonly used probiotics to treat GI problems, though many probiotics are available in the market.

Different types of probiotics contain different bacteria and in different amounts. Therefore, it’s advisable to note that different batches may differ from each other. Additionally, from when the probiotic was manufactured to when it is bought off the shelf, one can never know whether the bacteria is as active as when they were produced. Plus, different individuals have different numbers and types of bacteria in their guts. This means that what works for you might not work for another person. Therefore, before purchasing any probiotic product, it’s advisable to consult your doctor for the best prescription.

How to Take a Probiotic

Fortunately, most probiotics are harmless. But be cautious. There is evidence proving that what’s indicated is actually not what is inside. You need to be careful before taking any probiotics. There is no known amount of probiotics that one should take for a day. But if taking one per day in a month improves your gut problems that is what you should take. Avoid starting with a higher dose and do not replace any prescribed mood-disorder medication with probiotics. If you’ve been taking a specific type of probiotic and it doesn’t have any effect that might not be the right probiotic for you.

Sources of Probiotics

As earlier mentioned, you can get probiotics in pill form and powder form. However, there are lots of foods that contain “good bacteria ”. They include:

  •  Yogurt: Yogurt is one of the leading sources of probiotics. It has good bacteria that improve your health. Yogurt is made from friendly bacteria fermented milk. These bacteria are mainly bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria.
  • Kefir: Kefir is another good source of probiotics. It is made by adding kefir grains to goat’s or cow’s milk.
  • Sauerkraut: This is finely shredded cabbage fermented by lactic acid bacteria.

Other foods that are a good source of probiotics include tempeh, kimchi, miso, pickles, kombucha, and many more.

Final Thoughts

There are many healthy probiotic foods available. From fermented soybeans to dairy to vegetables, you only choose whatever you like. A healthy gut means healthy living. Try to incorporate some probiotics into your daily menu, and you might save yourself from experiencing symptoms of mental illness. For those who already have these symptoms, you might experience fewer symptoms with the help of probiotics.

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Samuel Njoroge

AUTHOR: Samuel Njoroge

Samuel (he/him) is a freelance writer, blogger, copywriter, and marketer. And a career spanning three years and enjoys crafting error-free content that increases subscriptions and sales. Samuel excels in mental health, self-improvement, technology, and marketing topics.

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