If you suffer from anxiety, either on a daily basis or occasionally, you’ll know it can be pretty debilitating. While there are plenty of lifestyle changes that can help with anxiety, like meditation and exercise, did you know that factoring in a certain supplement can help too?
Shabir Daya, a pharmacist and co-founder of wellness website Victoria Health, alerted me to research that shows some probiotics (i.e., good bacteria) can help deal with anxiety. “We’ve always known about the brain-gut axis, where the brain affects the gut, but this prompted scientists to wonder if the gut had the reverse action,” Daya tells me.
He believes that taking a probiotic can help with anxiety and even mild depression. “Initially, consider the use of a broad spectrum probiotic supplement for a couple of months and then evaluate if this has worked. A healthy gut should help the brain,” he says. In fact, one study found that taking a probiotic helped reduce cortisol spikes, in this case before exams.
“Reducing levels of cortisol should also help with mild depression, but each case is different. At the end of the day, a probiotic may be useful in conjunction with a drug, perhaps at a lower dose.” So it’s worth discussing this with your doctor if you’re currently taking antidepressants.
But unlike drugs, probiotics take time to take effect. “Not all probiotics are equal and our microbiomes are unique to each one of us and change as we age,” Daya tells me. “If you’re using probiotics, patience is going to be the key. Do not expect miraculous results immediately. These are not drugs but work gradually.”
She continues, “Studies using Florassist Mood (£26) indicated at the 30-day period a 49% drop in the global severity index, a measure of overall psychological distress; 50% decrease in depression scores; 60% decrease in anger-hostility scores; 36% decrease in the hospital anxiety and depression score; 13% decrease in urinary free cortisol, a hormonal measure of chronic stress, which was not seen in placebo patients.”
And it’s not just probiotics that are worth taking if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Prebiotics, the food for the good bacteria, have their place at the table too. “The Oxford study on prebiotics, namely B-GOS (galactooligosaccharides), found that volunteers had less cortisol after three weeks of taking this prebiotic. However, using another prebiotic called FOS (fructooligosaccharides) had no effect on cortisol levels. As yet, there’s no list of prebiotics to indicate which work and which don’t,” Daya tells me.
It’s still early days in the research between gut and mental health, but we are heading in the right direction. Not sure you want to buy into supplements? Daya notes that a healthy, varied diet of vegetables, fruits and fewer refined foods—as well as ensuring restful sleep and exercise—are important first steps in the fight against anxiety and depression.