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Probiotics aren't anything new. You've probably already heard about them in those yoghurt adverts just for women (apparently only one gender experiences digestive problems *eye roll*). But did you know they're currently being touted as a scientifically proven way to help with depression and anxiety? This is because your gut is considered to be your "second brain," with roughly 90% to 95% of all the body's serotonin (the naturally occurring chemical that makes you feel good) being produced in the gut. However, if that delicate balance of bacteria, which produces the serotonin, gets disrupted it can lead to reduced serotonin levels, which in turn could create symptoms of depression and anxiety.
As someone who's spoken to a lot of different nutritionists, the use of probiotics often comes up as something most people should be doing. That said, it can be a complicated area to understand. Questions that often come up when discussing taking them include "What do they actually do?" "Why should I take one?" and "How do I take them?" I turned to clinical nutritionist Kerry Madgwick, who regularly encourages her clients to take probiotics and has seen positive results from it. I also looked at the most recent studies to help break down the best way to take probiotics and what all the fuss is about.
Keep scrolling for your 101 guide on probiotics, as well as the best ones to take.
What is a probiotic?
A probiotic is a substance that contains live bacteria. Yoghurt is a probiotic but you can also take it in pill form. From aiding digestive problems to increasing the level of serotonin in the body, they are kind of miracle workers. For example, in one of the most recent studies this year, a team of researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine discovered that upon feeding depressed mice a probiotic called Lactobacillus, a bacteria found in live-cultures yogurt, they managed to reverse the symptoms.
How does it work?
But, we hear you cry, how can a small pill or yoghurt containing millions of bacteria really help your mood? It works like this: probiotics affect the gut in a positive way by "decreasing stress signaling in the body and possibly even increasing the transformation of the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin in the brain."
For further proof on how probiotics can help, I spoke to Madgwick about how she's worked with her clients who have anxiety and depression. After taking probiotics for a few months, many of those with depression and anxiety reported feeling better.
"When people are depressed, they are less likely to want to interact socially and find themselves struggling with low energy levels, however, after taking probiotics, they noticed increased energy levels which means they've been able to get out more."
She also mentioned that one client in particular was suffering from bouts of depression a couple of times every month but more recently she's only experienced one period in six months.
Which one should I take?
This is where it gets a bit tricky. According to Madgwick you need to find out which strain of bacteria you need to best fit your body, which can only really be discovered by speaking to a nutritionist about your symptoms and then working out which one is right for you.
Essentially, if you want to do it the best way possible, a nutritionist is your way forward. However, if you want to go the health food shop route then there are a few rules to note:
1. Check how the supplement is stored: you want it to be refrigerated as live bacteria will die otherwise.
2. Check the number of organisms: see how many it says on the bottle—ideally it's the more the merrier.
3. Check the strains: Now, here's where it's the most tricky. Ideally, this is what you'd speak to a nutritionist about. However, one study, which saw the benefits of taking probiotics for depression and anxiety used the following strains: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum—all of which you can buy in health food shops.
The short of it:
Want to know what all the fuss is about probiotics? Essentially, for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, probiotics help to increase the levels of serotonin in the body, thus aiding their symptoms.
There are a few different types of probiotics you can take but it all depends on the strain that is right for you body. To work this out, it's advised to speak to a nutritionist but you can also try taking some recommended health food probiotics too.