Foods that broaden the profile of helpful bacteria in the gut are collectively known as probiotics, while prebiotics is compounds that help these bacteria to flourish.
In a recent study published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, researchers found that probiotics either taken by themselves or when combined with prebiotics, may help to ease depression.
The study is from Brighton and Sussex Medical School. One author is Sanjay Noonan.
In the UK in 2016-17, 1.4 million people were referred to mental health issues, over half of them had anxiety or stress-related disorders, while a third had depression.
A two-way relationship exists between the brain and the digestive tract, known as the gut-brain axis.
And the possibility that the microbiome—the range and number of bacteria resident in the gut—might help treat mental ill health has become a focus of interest in recent years.
In the study, the team reviewed published research between 2003 and 2019, which looked at the potential contribution of pre-and probiotics in people with depression and/or anxiety disorders.
In all, 12 probiotic strains featured in the selected studies, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidium.
All of the studies concluded that probiotic supplements either alone or in combination with prebiotics may be linked to measurable reductions in depression.
And every study showed a big fall or improvement in anxiety symptoms and/or clinically relevant changes in biochemical measures of anxiety and/or depression with probiotic or combined pre-probiotic use.
Of the 12 different probiotics tested, 11 were potentially useful.
The team says that probiotics may help reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals, such as cytokines, as is the case in inflammatory bowel disease.
Or they may help direct the action of tryptophan, a chemical thought to be important in the gut-brain axis in psychiatric disorders.
Future research is needed to see whether the effects are long-lasting and whether there might be any unwanted side effects linked to prolonged use of the supplements.
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