Mental Health: Can Probiotics Provide Depression Relief?

Last modified: August 2, 2019

Richard Honaker M.D.
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The discussion on mental health and depression is becoming more important than ever in healthcare. New study examines how probiotics could be a natural helping hand for those suffering from mental illness.

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) usually suffer from depression as well. And a small study printed in the journal Gastroenterology suggests that people who take supplements of probiotics may get relief from both IBS and depression. This could be very promising in terms of managing mental health.

The study had a randomized placebo-controlled trial where it has been found that there is a link between probiotics and mood improvement in individuals with IBS and mental health problems like depression or anxiety.

There were even changes in brain regions that are connected with emotional processing. What’s next?

44 adults with mild to moderate anxiety and depression examined in latest Canadian mental health study

Researchers from McMaster University in Canada gathered 44 adults who suffer from IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. The participants were followed for 10 weeks where half of them took a daily dose of probiotics, while half took a placebo.

Six weeks after, the people who took probiotics had reduced depression scores that are twice as much as the scores of the placebo group (64% against 32%). After 10 weeks, the results were the same.

Participants of the study were given functional MRI scans and the researchers have found that improved depression scores were connected with alterations in activity of some brain areas that are included in mood regulation.


Are probiotics a useful alternative medicine for depression that is also natural?

According to the researchers, the alterations in brain activity substantiates the idea that the probiotic used called Bifidobacterium longum contains anti-depressive properties.

This could indeed be very helpful for managing mental health issues. Participants who took probiotics reported improvements in IBS symptoms and in the overall quality of their lives, but there was no notable independent alterations in anxiety, constipation, diarrhea or pain.

One possible reason for the enhanced mood in the group who took probiotics is because their physical body feels better so their mood gets better as well. Mental health is fine because physical health is fine.

This is the reason why a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto named Dr. Roger McIntyre believes that the fMRI results are very interesting and an important part of the research. These findings indicate that probiotics might be actually working on the brain itself.

He also said that it has been known that the amygdala becomes red hot in people with depression, and it appeared to cool down because of the probiotics. Because of this, there’s more scientific believability that at a very biological level something in the brain appears to be influenced or impacted by the Bifidobacterium longum.


Will probiotics replace pills for mental health issues?

There were no reported serious side effects to the probiotics taken in the study. This suggests that the supplement can be a safe way to treat both IBS and mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

According to the researchers, there has been a current review that found that Bifidobacterium longum appears to work better for gastrointestinal symptoms than the more commonly known probiotic called lactobacilli.

Certain specialists believe that gut bacteria influence the brain and vice versa primarily via systemic inflammation. In this study though, the researchers did not find any difference in inflammatory markers between the group who took probiotics and the group who had placebo.

McIntyre also mentioned that the bowel interacts with the brain via other passageways as well. And that includes the metabolic and nervous systems.

More medical trials needed . . .

The discoveries of the study still need to be confirmed at bigger independent trials. McIntyre also said that he would not yet recommend taking a certain probiotic for the alleviation of symptoms connected with mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

The co-author of the study also mentioned that the formula used in the research is not yet available in the market today. McIntyre reiterated that the evidence yielded by the study is indeed promising but still not enough to warrant advocating to patients as a feasible mental health treatment strategy for depression or anxiety.

McIntyre may not have recommended the method for dealing with mental health issues, but he stated that the results are still very encouraging as there might be other mechanisms that could be revealed other than inflammation that could link the GI tract to the brain.

Such results are encouraging indeed as more discoveries are bound to be revealed if further studies will be conducted and supported. Developments in mental health treatment and GI tract-brain connections will benefit future creations of treatment strategies in both fields.

Once the Bifidobacterium longum has been proven to alleviate symptoms of mental health problems like depression and anxiety, it will become a more affordable alternative treatment option for the financially challenged members of the population.

dr-richard-honakerRichard A. Honaker, M.D. — Chief Medical Advisor at YourDoctors.Online

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Submitted by Dr. Richard Honaker:

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.

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