Can Probiotics Improve Your Mood?
Probiotics are big news. Everyday there are new stories in the popular media about how probiotics are improving people’s health.
One of the most exciting areas of research is around probiotics and mood. It’s estimated that 90% of our serotonin is made in our digestive tract. But there is more to the story than the production of this feel good chemical.
A growing body of evidence is showing that the health of gut directly influences the health of our brain. Perhaps the most important factor in gut health is the composition of the bacterial species that live there. The two main ways to influence which species live in our guts are eating a healthy fiber rich diet and taking probiotics.
Probiotics Can Be Confusing
Great, probiotics can be really helpful, but there are so many brands with so many confusing claims. Are you tired of trying to navigate the vast and vague world of choosing a probiotic to boost your mood?
Reading label after label, with all sorts of latin binomial species names (say latin word awkwardly), weird units of measurements (CFU… is that a curse word?) and a plethora of empty promises from brands (“Will solve all of the worlds problems”).
Well lucky you, I’m about to break it all down for you so that you finally understand probiotics and can choose the best probiotics strains for your mental health.
For for those of you who don’t want to use all of your new knowledge to research the various brands to figure out which is best for your mood, stick around till the end as I’ll be letting you know which ready-to-go mood probiotic product I recommend as the best probiotic for brain and mental health.
Now if you don’t know already, probiotics in science and medicine is blowing up! By this point, you’re probably aware of the importance of probiotics in immune and digestive health. But did you know that the microorganisms in our gut can actually influence our brain
That’s right, trillions of little bacteria in your intestines can actually have profound influence on your mood, behavior and even personality. The intimate link between our brain and our guts goes deep and gets weirder and weirder the more we look at it.
You might wonder, how on earth is this possible? The intestines and the brain are completely different organs and are not even near each other!
Well, there’s this important nerve called the vagus nerve. It’s essentially a thick chord of nervous system tissue that extends all the way from the brain stem down into the internal organs, including the gut. The vagus nerve sends and receives messages to and from the gut.
The Enteric Nervous System
Throughout the gut, there is actually a dense network of nerves. This is called the enteric nervous system, and is more or less the equivalent to having brain cells in your GI tract. This may be where our “gut instinct” comes from.
Bacteria can send chemical signals that are received by the nerve cells in your gut, which then get relayed to your brain through the vagus nerve. The brain can also send signals down to the gut via these nerves in the enteric nervous system.
Bacteria from the gut can even migrate up this vagus nerve into the brain. We likely also have a bunch of microbes, good and bad, in our actual brains, but that’s still an area of study that is very new and underdeveloped. I’m sure we will hear more about that in the next couple of years.
So how exactly do bacteria interact with this enteric nervous system?
Well, many bacteria have metabolic byproducts that they create that act as signaling molecules in our body. Some of these include neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and GABA.
They also produce short chain fatty acids such as butyric acid which interacts with our cells in beneficial ways. Bacteria in our guts can even influence our vagal nerve function and dictate our response to stress. They also affect memory, cognition and brain resilience.
Which Species Are Best For Mood?
So now that you at least have a little background on how gut microbes can influence our brain and mood health, let’s get to the part that you’re probably most interested in. Which are the best probiotic species to look for if you’re trying to improve your gut-brain connection and mood health?
Before we into the specifics of which probiotic species are the best mood booster, lets first clear up some confusion about how these bacteria are named.
How To Read Bacteria Names
Bacteria, like most things in Biology, have 2 names. The first is their genus and the second is their species. It is similar to people’s names in countries where people say their family name before their own name – last name first.
For example, with Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus is the genus or bigger category and brevis is the species or smaller category.
First we’ll look at the 3 major genera of probiotics to get an idea of what they’re good for in general and then we’ll examine the individual species.
There are 3 main genera of probiotics on the market:
Lactobacillus is a genus of bacteria that contains many species that are symbiotic with the human body, living mostly in the intestine, urinary and genital tract. This group of bacteria is named after their ability to convert sugars into lactic acid.
Lactobacillus bacteria are the most common type of probiotics found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yoghurt. The Lactobacillus bacteria have been found to play an important role in human health due to their ability to help breakdown food in the digestive tract and protect against pathogenic bacteria.
Bifidobacterium are one of the largest groups of bacteria that inhabit the human intestinal tract, as well as the vagina and mouth. They are a type of anaerobic bacteria that are important for metabolizing carbohydrates in the human intestine.
Bifidobacterium serve a number of important function including the regulation of intestinal microbial homeostasis, protection from harmful bacteria that can infect the gut mucosa, the modulation of the immune system, and the production of vitamins.
Bifidobacterium also improve the gut mucosal barrier and lower levels of the toxin lipopolysaccharide in the intestine.
Bacillus is a genus of species that are found in both soil and the human body. Probiotic species from the Bacillus genus are known for their ability to form a protective spore.
This spore is resistant to heat, radiation, desiccation and disinfectant agents. This makes bacillus species very practical as probiotics given their ability to survive heat, transport and oxygen without requiring refrigeration.
Bacillus probiotic species such as Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans have been found to protect against pathogenic bacteria, while promoting the growth of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and balance of other gut bacteria
Now that you are familiar with the basic genera of probiotics, let’s look at the best probiotic species for reducing depression and anxiety symptoms
The Mood Boosting Effects of Various Species
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus helveticus, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus coagulans have all been studied for their antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects and appear to be the most important strains for brain and mood health.
Lactobacillus plantarum and Bacillus subtilis increase serotonin and acetylcholine production, supporting mood, memory and cognition.
Bacillus subtilis also increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels as well as reducing aggressive behavior.
Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum increase brain derived neurotrophic factor or bdnf which promotes neuroplasticity and neuron health. (I talk more about that in another video I made)
Lactobacillus plantarum decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines, and increased anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Lactobacillus helveticus and Lactobacillus plantarum lowered cortisol and other stress hormones which normalizes the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis stress response and anxiety levels.
Lactobacillus helveticus was even compared to and SSRI and performed better than the drug at normalizing serotonin levels and reducing stress hormone levels.
Bifidobacterium longum has been found to reduce overexcitation of neurons in the gut which is related to glutamate excitotoxicity, a driver of depression and brain inflammation.
A Bacillus coagulans strain Lactospore(R) was found to decrease depression in those with IBS and improve life satisfaction scores.
So while these all sounds pretty great, here’s some things to consider:
Stability of Species
Some strains are more stable than others. So while, for example, the Bifidobacterium species have impressive benefits, the truth is, most of them die at room temperature and do not survive transport very well.
The vast majority on non-refrigerated probiotic formulas with any of the Bifidobacterium species likely contain most dead organisms. Even if they are in delayed release capsules, or freeze dried etc, unless you get these Bifidobacterium fresh from the factory, you’re likely getting a majority of dead, unviable organism.
We see this in particular with the patented strains of L. helveticus Rosell-52 and bifidobacterial longum Rosell-175. Where their fragility and tendency to quickly die make them less practical in use in commercial probiotics versus clinical trials where they do no undergo manufacturing and shipping processes.
Because of this challenge spore-forming Bacillus probiotic species like Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans are better options because they are resistant to heat.
Survivability of Species
Virtually all of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterial strains also die in the stomach. Even if you manage to get your hands on live organism at the time of purchase, once you swallow these guys, virtually none will survive your stomach acid, even with delayed delivery methods.
Even if they somehow make it to your small intestine alive, the truth is, lab grown probiotics are genetically different than the type that actually live and reproduce in your gut.
For example, probiotics grown in a liquid media culture will experience genetic changes such as growing flagelli, in order to adapt to their environment. This makes them ill-equipped for thriving in the human intestine and reproducing at all.
Again, this is a good case for the spore forming species, since they have been proven to survive stomach acid and even adhere to and reproduce in the human gut unlike the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics.
The Best 4 Bacterial Species for Mood Health
So taking into account both the scientific research and the concerns about survivability, my top 4 choices for best probiotics for mental health are Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus coagulans, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus. These strains have the best stability and survivability and have impressive results when it comes to the scientific research.
So now, you may be thinking, How am I going to find a probiotic that has these top 4 species you selected? Well I decided the world needed this type of probiotic and I created something just for all of you who don’t have the time or patience to search for a probiotic that isn’t garbage.
I’ve done all the research on the best probiotics for mood so that you don’t have to and packaged it up into one convenient bottle of superior quality probiotics.
Check out my creation Zenbiotic. It’s a specialized probiotic made for brain and mood health. It’s based off of years of my personal and scientific research and was formulated very carefully with stability and functionality in mind.
It contains spore-forming Bacillus species, as well as the most robust Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species studied for mood. It also has patented bio-phage technology, plus prebiotic fibers. So, it is quite the specimen of a probiotic if I may say so myself.
Buy a Mood Boosting Probiotic With All of These Species in It!
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Zhou L, Foster JA. Psychobiotics and the gut-brain axis: in the pursuit of happiness. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015;11:715-723. Published 2015 Mar 16. doi:10.2147/NDT.S61997
Smith KS, Greene MW, Babu JR, Frugé AD. Psychobiotics as treatment for anxiety, depression, and related symptoms: a systematic review [published online ahead of print, 2019 Dec 20]. Nutr Neurosci. 2019;1-15. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2019.1701220