The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms and bacteria (also referred to as "gut microbiota" or "gut flora") which together with their respective genes make up the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome has shown to have a profound impact on practically every system in our body, from our immune system to the endocrine system, skin health to mental health. Read on to learn how supporting the gut can improve your mental wellbeing, and what the latest strides in microbiome research means for your probiotic routine.
The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
The primary mechanism at play connecting gut health and mental health is the gut-brain axis; a bidirectional communication network that links the cognitive and emotional centres of the brain with the intestinal functions of the gut microbiome.1 Advances in scientific research have underscored the significance of gut microbiota in influencing mental and emotional wellbeing – giving rise to a new frontier in probiotic development: psychobiotics.
Probiotics for Mental Wellbeing – Enter the New Frontier of Psychobiotics
Referred to as psychobiotics, cutting-edge research is discovering how specific types of probiotic strains can support our mental wellbeing; from easing stress and anxiety to enhancing mood and sleep.2 So far, many psychobiotics have only been tested on animals, but a handful of strains have undergone high-quality human clinical studies – and the results are compelling. Below are some of the most evidence-based psychobiotic strains to date, showing significant improvements across mood, stress, tension and anxiety.
Lactobacillus Plantarum DR7
A front-runner in psychobiotic development, Lactobacillus Plantarum DR7 is a highly specialised strain that has undergone robust research, development and testing. In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Lactobacillus Plantarum DR7 was shown to significantly alleviate stress and anxiety in healthy (but stressed) adults. Compared to placebo, the administration of DR7 enhanced and stabilised both dopamine and serotonin pathways along the gut-brain axis, demonstrating the probiotic’s positive effect on biomarkers of mental wellbeing as well as self-reported stress and anxiety levels.3
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus HN001
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus is a probiotic genera often linked to mental wellbeing. The HN001 strain is one of the most well-researched within the family, having shown significant improvements across stress, anxiety and mood. A recent landmark study - randomised, placebo-controlled and double-blind - showed that new mums who received Lactobacillus Rhamnosus HN001 had significantly lower depression and anxiety scores postpartum vs their placebo counterparts.4
Bifidobacterium Bifidum R0071 (Rosell-71)
Bifidobacterium Bifidum Rosell-71 has consistently shown to have a significant stress reducing effect. In a 6 week randomised clinical study of c. 600 students during their examination period (a highly stressful phase), Bifidobacterium Bifidum Rosell-71 significantly decreased self-reported stress scores. The psychobiotic also helped diminish the negative effects of sleep deprivation; even with fewer hours of sleep, students reported lower stress levels.5
Bifidobacterium Longum R0175 (Rosell-175)
Bifidobacterium Longum Rosell-175 is one of the most well-studied psychobiotics for mood and sleep support. The outcome of an open-label pilot study concluded Bifidobacterium Longum Rosell-175 had a significant mood-enhancing effect on mild to moderately depressed adults.6 Rosell-175 was highlighted as a safe, effective, and well-tolerated supplement that can significantly improve sleep quality, mood and outlook.
How Can I Add Psychobiotics to My Diet?
Unfortunately, psychobiotic foods are hard to come by. It’s not as easy as reaching for your nearest kefir or kombucha as these are highly specified strains. Supplementation is often your best bet - specialist supplement companies have started to integrate some of the aforementioned strains in their formulations (this one includes all four). Make sure it’s constructed to survive the GI tract to reach the part of the gut where the probiotics can exert their benefits. Happy populating.
1 Carabotti, Marilia et al. “The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems.” Annals of gastroenterology vol. 28,2 (2015): 203-209.
2 Lucie Lingrand. "Exploring the Power of Probiotics: New frontiers in research." Trust your gut: recent research advances on the microbiome-gut-brain axis. Lallemand. 2020.05. Lallemand-health-solutions.com
3 Chong, H X et al. “Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 alleviates stress and anxiety in adults: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Beneficial microbes vol. 10,4 (2019): 355-373. doi:10.3920/BM2018.0135
4 Slykerman, R.F., et al., “Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 in Pregnancy on Postpartum Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: A Randomised Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial.” EBioMedicine, 2017. 24: p. 159-165.
5 Culpepper, T et al. “Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071 decreases stress-associated diarrhoea-related symptoms and self-reported stress: a secondary analysis of a randomised trial.” Beneficial microbes vol. 7,3 (2016): 327-36. doi:10.3920/BM2015.0156
6 Wallace CJK and Milev RV (2021) The Efficacy, Safety, and Tolerability of Probiotics on Depression: Clinical Results From an Open-Label Pilot Study. Front. Psychiatry 12:618279. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.618279