If you are feeling anxious, where do you physically feel the emotion? For a lot of people, the answer is “in the gut.” Anxiety can make us feel sick to our stomachs. Indeed, you may have heard there is such a thing as a “brain-gut axis.” So is it possible through this connection to treat anxiety by treating problems in your digestive tract? Will taking probiotics help you feel less anxious?
Harvard Medical School explains, “We believe that the brain and the gut can talk to each other. Therefore, it is possible that anxiety and depression may trigger abdominal pain or other GI symptoms. It is also possible that gastrointestinal conditions such as chronic abdominal pain or constipation might also result in anxiety or depression.”
That article was written in 2017, and attempts to answer the question of using probiotics to treat depression and anxiety. It references a review article published in Annals of General Psychiatry which itself could reach no conclusion on the matter.
In 2018, however, in PLoS One, a new meta-analysis was conducted which discovered something interesting. The researchers report, “While probiotic administration reduces anxiety-like behavior in rodents, the current state of clinical research does not (yet) support probiotics as an efficacious treatment for anxiety. Lactobacillus rhamnosus was nonetheless identified as a candidate anxiolytic probiotic species by both preclinical and clinical studies.”
So there is now some evidence which may be pointing us in the right direction for further research. Lactobacillus rhamnosus might also be an ingredient worth checking for if you are planning on trying a probiotic product for your own anxiety.
As a personal anecdote, I came down with post-infectious IBS following a bout of food poisoning. During that time, I developed full-blown anxiety disorder with panic attacks. Research showed me that an overlap between IBS and anxiety is common.
This made intuitive sense to me. I am someone who often “feels” anxiety in my stomach as if I am sick. So it seems logical to me that my IBS symptoms tricked my brain into thinking I was anxious, which then further fed my digestive symptoms, and so on.
When I learned that, I did everything I could to break the cycle by treating both the anxiety and the digestive symptoms in every way I could—including by taking probiotics. I am happy to report that I did eventually make a full recovery from IBS, and that my anxiety is much-reduced. I could myself lucky, because both the panic attacks and the IBS were quite the ordeal.
So will taking probiotics help you treat your anxiety? The jury is still out, but there is some clinical evidence suggesting it may help. It also makes sense on a logical, intuitive level that there may be some mental health benefits. The best way to find out is to give it a try. It certainly can’t hurt, and it may just make the difference you are looking for.
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