New studies suggest probiotics can treat depression and anxiety disorders


Probiotic supplementation has been widely popular in recent years and they’re getting a new wave of media attention as several recently published studies focus on their potential to replace antidepressants. The good bacteria strains are commonly publicized as an effective solution for bloating, digestive irregularity, and weakened immune systems in addition to promoting overall health.

A new research study conducted at Leiden University has shown probiotics to be effective in reducing the occurrence of rumination, which is a predictive behavior of depression. Dr. Lorenza Colzato of Leiden University led the blind study, which administered multiple strain probiotic powder to half of the participants and a placebo to the other half. The study was small, but the results are promising. All 20 of the participants who received the probiotic showed a decreased sensitivity to depression after only a month. Dr. Colzato told the Huffington Post, “….Further research needs to be carried out, but the hope is that probiotics supplementation may work as a potential and effective preventive strategy for depression.”

Another study recently conducted by neuroscientists at Cambridge University showed that prebiotics, good bacteria that feed larger probiotic strains, effectively decrease the body’s emotional response to negative stimuli. The study’s lead Dr. Philip Burnet told Huffington Post that prebiotic compounds can likely be used to manage mental illness, especially where deficiencies and imbalances are involved.

Natural Health magazine boldly asks, “Are Probiotics the New Antidepressant?” In the current issue, the probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium are dubbed, “psychobiotics” for their mood boosting and stabilizing abilities. Jane Foster, Ph.D. noted, “In animal studies, there’s a lot of evidence that probiotics can normalize anxiety and depressive-like behaviors.” The article also sites multiple human studies with participants demonstrating positive results from ingesting probiotics and prebiotics.

The Neurochemical-Probiotic Connection

According to Natural Health, the two neurochemicals most heavily involved in mental health are cortisol, the “stress” hormone, and gamma-amino butyric acid aka GABA, the “feel good” hormone. Scientists are focusing on understanding the connection between these two neurochemicals and probiotics. Generally, a person with a well-balanced microbiome will have lower levels of cortisol. Other research shows that prebiotics increase the body’s levels of GABA, creating an overall feeling of calm. Probiotics also stimulate production of serotonin and oxytocin, chemicals that trigger relaxation and happiness.

Dr. Greenblatt, chief medical officer at Waltham Behavioral Care has been using probiotic therapy for 20 years and is happy to see research focus shift to this area again, but wants people to know that probiotic therapy in treatment of depression requires careful testing. He notes that this type of therapy often works best for people who have imbalances caused by antibiotic overuse and it can take up to two months before change takes place.

Sources for this article include:

Walker, Melissa. “Are Probiotics the New Antidepressant.” Natural Health Mar.-Apr. 2015: 32-34. Print.




Bri Jackson
Bri Jackson is a New York based certified trainer, yoga instructor, and wellness blogger. She is passionate about bringing simple clean eating, fitness, and inspiration to others. Connect with Bri on Instagram @Brittgotfit_ and her personal blog