Anxiety is very common and affects over 18% of the population in the United States. Everyone feels anxious from time to time but anxiety disorders are more serious. The persistence of intense dread, fear, excessive worry, racing thoughts, trouble sleeping and concentrating, changes in appetite, uncontrollable overthinking, panic, and digestive issues can become an overwhelming burden that disrupts your life and damages your health.
Including your gut bacteria.
You’ve probably tried many things to reduce or alleviate your anxiety. The usual advice for coping with it is using psychological tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy, learning to be more present, meditation, exercise, distracting yourself with an activity, and cutting out sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine.
This is great advice and you should definitely include them in your plan for reducing your anxiety. But sometimes anxiety persists after trying everything in the book.
There is another avenue to try.
Probiotics vs Psychobiotics
I’m sure you’ve heard probiotics are helpful in the treatment of those with gastrointestinal issues. Maybe you’ve even taken them before to ease digestion or because of your concern about taking antibiotics and killing your good gut bacteria.
Probiotics are microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast that have been found to be beneficial to our health. They restore balance to our gut microbiota and are vital to many bodily functions. They help digest the food we eat, they fight off bad bacteria and pathogens, they synthesize many vitamins we need, they produce and respond to neurotransmitters that affect our moods, and they regulate our immune system.
That is unless they’ve been wiped out by stress, depression, diet, environmental factors, lifestyle, medication, or antibiotics.
Psychobiotics are probiotics that have been clinically proven to positively affect mood and have even been considered as a treatment for depression instead of antidepressants.
If you feel that you may have a damaged gut microbiome, taking the following psychobiotic strains could help not only your anxiety but any digestive issues you might have as well.
So, what is the best probiotic for anxiety? Here is a list of a few of these specific stress-reducing psychobiotics.
*Note: Scientists have been working to reclassify certain bacteria to better reflect their characteristics as new research brings new light to this area of study. Some bacteria on the list may have a new name in parentheses but it may be a while until this name will be reflected in the products you buy. You can use this tool to find out if any probiotic has another name.
1. Lactobacillus helveticus
L. helveticus is bacteria that is naturally occurring in our gut. It’s been shown to improve sleep, decrease blood pressure, reduce the length of upper respiratory infection, restore gut health, and when paired with B. longum (also on this list), improve anxiety.
It’s found in foods such as parmesan cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
2. Lactobacillus plantarum *(Lactiplantibacillus plantarum)
There was a study done on the probiotic bacteria L. plantarum that reported it reduced anxiety, alleviated stress, improved overall cognitive health, and even improved memory. It’s also been found to lower blood pressure and studies are being done on the possibility of helping those with diabetes.
L. plantarum is also a lactic bacteria that you can find in dairy and fermented foods.
3. Bifidobacterium breve
B. breve has been effectively used for infants with colic but it is also used for relieving anxiety, depressive symptoms, and memory. When taken for 6 weeks, it compared well when tested against the antidepressant escitalopram or Lexapro.
4. Bifidobacterium longum
B. longum reduces the production of certain chemicals that increase inflammation. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol and actually has been proven to help with depression and anxiety. This bacteria also compares with taking antidepressants for a 6 week period.
5. Lactobacillus rhamnosus *(Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus)
L. rhamnosus has been found to be just as effective as SSRIs in the treatment of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is a neurotransmitter responsible for the relaxation of the central nervous system and this bacteria may reduce anxiety by changing the expression of GABA receptors.
L. rhamnosus also produces butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid that acts as an antidepressant and feeds and heals the gut.
*If you have SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, don’t take probiotics as there are some issues you need to deal with before taking them. Probiotics may aggravate your gut by causing bloating and gas. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to concentrate on healing from SIBO first. I will write a future article about how to deal with SIBO.
This is not an exhaustive list and there are many more different strains of probiotics that can help with anxiety and new research is coming out all the time. And while there is some overlap, I’ve created a list specifically for psychobiotics that address depression as well. Look for one that is clinically proven to work. Well researched psychobiotics that help alleviate anxiety include:
If you take your time and look at the labels you will be able to find a supplement that contains many of the probiotics on this list. You now have another tool in your belt to treat your anxiety!
Have you used probiotics to treat anxiety before? Or maybe you stumbled onto their mood improving tendencies while taking them for digestive problems? Let us know in the comments!