Updated: May 4, 2022
The first week of May is Mental Health Awareness Week and during a time of unprecendented global anxiety about a world pandemic, the topic of mental health should truly be at the forefront.
Anxiety disorders are a common occurrence and can often result from a reaction to stress or worry about present or future events.
Obviously we are in the middle of one very anxiety-inducing event right now.
As a dietitian, I am so intrigued by the emerging evidence suggesting a connection between food choices and anxious behaviour.
This should come as no big surprise because the human gut actually has about 90% of the body’s serotonin receptors. This peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract as well as dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid which all play a key role in regulating mood. These neurotransmitters are also produced in the brain which is why the gut is referred to as a « second brain » and functions in connection with the brain.
The Gut-Brain Connection
In other words, the brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines.
The intestinal microbiota also plays a crucial role in this relationship, as evidenced by an imbalance of the microbiome being implicated with the occurence of anxiety and depression.
So Can We Improve Anxiety & Depression By Improving Gut Health ?
There is evidence to suggest that probiotic supplementation in humans can have a small but significant role in improving symptoms related to anxiety, depression and mood disorders.
The depression-reducing effect of probiotics was significant in major depression cases, rather than in the otherwise healthy individual and multiple strains may be more effective in reducing depressive symptoms than a single strain.
Many Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains have been studied to understand their possible effects on mental health and seem to be the ones that demonstrate the most benefits.
Scientists believe that treatment with probiotics may improve symptoms associated with major depression disorder by increasing serotonin availability and/or decreasing levels of inflammatory markers.
These effects are obviously mediated on some level by the gut-brain connection and continue to be an emerging and enticing area of research in the field of digestive and mental health.
The Importance Of Catching Your Z’s
Sleep may play an important and underappreciated role in mediating the gut-brain connection, especially as it relates to the topics I’ve touched on today’s article.
Examining the ways in which probiotics influence mood, personality traits, and sleep may help us to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the gut and the brain and to develop new applications for psychological well-being.
An improvement across time in different aspects of mood state, like sad mood, anger, and fatigue only in healthy individuals which took probiotics has been shown.
Sleep quality strongly relates to mood. More precisely, as suggested by the significant correlations, the higher the quality of sleep, the better the mood state.
So have I got you interested in pursuing more sleep and better gut health?
My Recommended Probiotic Formulas
Multiple strains of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species seem to be the formulas that demonstrate the most benefits on mental health. I found two products that contain both species. Here they are :
This article was put together in partnership with Kaleigraphy, Andy De Santis RD. Cognitive function and the microbiome is another topic that I will be exploring next.
In the meantime, please let me know what you guys are most interested in.