What Are Psychobiotics? Why Probiotics Could Aid in Mental Health

What Are Psychobiotics? Why Probiotics Could Aid in Mental Health

Mental health disorders are conditions impacting mood, behavior, and cognitive processes. The World Health Organization reports that 1 in 8 individuals grapple with mental health issues.

Moreover, around 13% of children and teenagers globally are affected by mental health disorders. Can psychobiotics play a role in addressing mental health concerns? If so, what exactly are psychobiotics, and how might they contribute to enhancing mental well-being?

What Are Psychobiotics? 

What Are Psychobiotics?

Psychobiotics refer to probiotics and prebiotics that potentially offer mental health advantages by fostering the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Studies indicate that psychobiotics may significantly influence the interaction and communication between the gut microbiome and the brain.

Psychobiotics are believed to aid in alleviating anxiety, depression, and enhancing overall mood due to their positive effects on the microbiome-gut-brain axis. This dual action of probiotics and prebiotics warrants further investigation.



Given the widespread acknowledgment of probiotics, it's likely you've heard about their potential benefits. Probiotics consist of live bacteria, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, which can promote health when consumed.

Foods Rich in Probiotics 

Foods Rich in Probiotics

You can typically find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, miso, tempeh, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut. While some bacteria can be harmful and detrimental to health, probiotics offer advantages such as enhancing immune function, promoting regular stool consistency, and normalizing bowel movements.

Vitamin Synthesis 

Vitamin Synthesis Psychobiotics

Furthermore, they contribute to the synthesis of vitamins like vitamin K2, as well as various B vitamins, including pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), thiamin (vitamin B1), biotin, folate, and riboflavin (vitamin B2).

Gastrointestinal Advantages 

Gastrointestinal Advantages

Additionally, research suggests that probiotics may play a role in ameliorating various gastrointestinal disorders, ranging from infectious diarrhea and ulcerative colitis to irritable bowel syndrome and necrotizing enterocolitis. Moreover, studies propose that probiotics could also offer benefits for conditions such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, respiratory health, and even acne.

Understanding Prebiotics 

Understanding Prebiotics

Prebiotics consist of indigestible fibers that serve as nourishment for probiotics. Research indicates that prebiotics may contribute to modifying the gut microbiome, reducing low-grade inflammation, and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.

Foods Rich in Prebiotics 

Examples of prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides and inulin. Foods abundant in prebiotics encompass asparagus, artichoke, banana, onion, and chicory. Since prebiotics resist digestion in the human small intestine, they are broken down by gut microflora in the colon.

Immune and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Immune and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits Psychobiotics

Prebiotics, when broken down or fermented by gut flora, generate molecules known as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Research has established a connection between SCFAs and various health advantages, including enhancing the innate immune system and fortifying the intestinal lining. Furthermore, SCFAs are believed to possess anti-inflammatory properties and may offer protection against chronic colon diseases.

Psychobiotics and Mental 

Well-being studies indicate that psychobiotics, which combine probiotics and prebiotics, may offer benefits for mental health by reducing depression, alleviating anxiety, and decreasing inflammation.

Decreasing Depression 

Depression, a multifaceted mental health condition, impacts not only the mind but also the body as a whole. Prolonged depression is associated with heightened activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

The HPA axis comprises a complex interconnected network involving the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain, as well as the adrenal glands atop the kidneys. It represents a primary pathway in the body's stress response. Irregularities in HPA axis regulation may elevate the risk of developing depression.

The gut microbiome also contributes significantly to depression. Research reveals substantial differences in the gut microbiome composition between individuals with depression and healthy counterparts. Additionally, there exists an intriguing link between depression and intestinal barrier dysfunction, which communicates with the brain via nerve fibers.

Studies propose that psychobiotics may play a pivotal role in managing depression by modulating the HPA axis and enhancing intestinal barrier function. For instance, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial compared individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) who consumed psychobiotic supplements to those who did not. After 8 weeks, despite no dietary divergence between the groups, participants using psychobiotics experienced reduced depressive symptoms, lower serum insulin levels, and elevated plasma glutathione levels.

Another randomized placebo-controlled study involving 40 individuals with depression revealed that those who supplemented fluoxetine treatment with psychobiotics exhibited diminished depressive symptoms compared to those solely receiving fluoxetine.

Furthermore, a separate randomized placebo-controlled study conducted on adults with major depressive disorder demonstrated that participants receiving psychobiotics experienced fewer depressive symptoms compared to those receiving placebo alone.

Moreover, research suggests that psychobiotics may aid in regulating the HPA axis in healthy individuals. A placebo-controlled study involving 32 healthy adults exposed to moderate psychological stress found that those consuming the psychobiotic intervention exhibited a greater abundance of beneficial gut bacteria and reported improved mood. Additionally, individuals taking psychobiotics reported fewer feelings of tension, anger, confusion, and fatigue.

Reducing Anxiety

Reducing Anxiety

Research also suggests that psychobiotics may offer relief for individuals experiencing anxiety. Anxiety is a debilitating mental health condition characterized by feelings of nervousness, impending doom, panic, and restlessness. Physical manifestations of anxiety include trembling or shaking, sweating, rapid breathing, and an elevated heart rate.

Anxiety is closely linked to corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), the primary hormone involved in regulating the HPA axis. Studies propose that psychobiotics may aid in reducing anxiety by modulating CRH levels. In one study, involving 50 adults (30 with laryngeal cancer and 20 healthy volunteers) awaiting surgery, heart rates and CRH levels were measured in the two weeks leading up to their surgeries.

Twenty adults received psychobiotic intervention randomly. Those who received psychobiotics exhibited lower heart rates and serum CRH levels, along with reporting reduced feelings of stress and anxiety.

Another study focused on athletes experiencing anxiety. Initially, the athletes were assessed for anxiety and stress levels, and then they were administered psychobiotics for 8 weeks. Results indicated a significant decrease in both perceived anxiety and stress levels among athletes taking psychobiotics. Additionally, they experienced notable reductions in physical symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heart rate and trembling.

Moreover, a study targeting individuals with generalized anxiety disorder or eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia demonstrated significant alterations in the gut microbiome with psychobiotic supplementation. These changes led to a more diverse range of beneficial bacteria in the gut, potentially offering mental health benefits.

Lowering Inflammation

Lowering Inflammation

Animal studies investigating the use of psychobiotics for anxiety have revealed that their anti-anxiety effects may extend beyond simply regulating the HPA axis. Psychobiotics might also possess the ability to diminish inflammation within the body.

Inflammation is closely associated with various mental health conditions, notably depression and anxiety. It arises as an immune response to foreign agents within the body. While inflammation serves the purpose of combating these invaders, prolonged inflammation can lead to adverse health effects.

Research suggests that psychobiotics could play a role in reducing overall inflammation, particularly neuroinflammation, which affects the central nervous system. Lowering inflammation may have an anti-aging effect, promoting longevity.

Psychobiotics could potentially reduce inflammation by influencing the number and function of immune cells, as well as the pathways they utilize to combat foreign agents within the body.

For instance, an animal study demonstrated that an imbalance in the gut microbiome resulted in heightened levels of inflammation in both the colon and the brain. However, supplementation with psychobiotics was shown to decrease the levels of inflammatory cytokines, or cell messengers, within the brain.

A meta-analysis involving individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and psychobiotics revealed promising results. The analysis indicated that psychobiotics not only improved cognition in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and MCI but also reduced blood markers of inflammation such as malondialdehyde and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).

Psychobiotics may contribute to reducing inflammation by decreasing the levels of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species within the body. These species are major contributors to oxidative stress and free radical damage. Although they induce oxidative stress, they also exacerbate inflammation by impairing protein and cell functions.

One study discovered that psychobiotics could enhance the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria and mitigate inflammation within the body by acting as scavengers for free radicals, consequently reducing oxidative stress.


Psychobiotics show promising potential in addressing mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and inflammation. Emerging research suggests that the combination of probiotics and prebiotics may offer valuable therapeutic effects by modulating various physiological pathways, including the gut-brain axis and immune response. Further studies are warranted to elucidate the precise mechanisms and optimize the use of psychobiotics for promoting mental well-being.

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