This is one of the newer areas of probiotic research. Described as the “gut-brain axis,” researchers believe that the communication between the gut and the brain affects not just physical but also mental health and behavior. For example, a recent study found that probiotics can reduce anxiety, relieve stress and improve mental outlook. Another study found that the probiotics L. helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum reduced depression, anger, hostility and self-blame and improved problem-solving ability. Another study showed a difference in brain activity between women consuming yogurt and those consuming a placebo. More research needs to be done to confirm the effect of probiotics on mental and emotional health.
Your gut is diverse, so your probiotic should be too. Look for a supplement that contains multiple strains, sometimes listed as a proprietary blend. Inferior brands might only contain one probiotic strain such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. Aside from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, probiotics may contain Strep. thermophilus and Saccharomyces boulardii, among others.
The latest two-part research on probiotics was spearheaded by researchers at the Elinav Lab of Immunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and colleagues at the Tel Aviv Medical Center. Eran Elinav served as a senior author for both studies along with Eran Segal and his lab of computational biologists who focus on health and disease related to microbiome, nutrition, genetics, and gene regulation.
Flora offers a high potency blend of eight super strain probiotics for general gut health and immune system support including multiple varieties of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, among others. Containing up to 42 billion CFUs per capsule, this powerful health-boosting blend uses only strains found naturally in the human body, which increases its effectiveness.
You also want to look at the guarantee fine print: If the CFU number is guaranteed at time of manufacturing, but not at the time of expiration, you could be taking a less potent dose of probiotics than you think because potency fades over time. I made this mistake when I was traveling once and went to the grocery store to pick up probiotics. On the bottle label it said guaranteed at 20 billion CFU at the time of manufacturing. This doesn’t tell you the CFU for when I was actually taking the probiotics. For instance, our probiotics are manufactured at 60 billion and 200 billion CFU, and guaranteed at 30 billion and 100 billion CFU, respectively, at time of expiration.
However, these quality of life improvements are varied, and some improvements are quite mild. Sample group, types of allergies, symptoms, and results are across a broad spectrum. For example, numerous studies have shown that allergic rhinitis responses to the household dust mite decrease significantly in adults and children when probiotics were used. However, people allergic to birch pollen saw neither a decrease in general allergic responses to birch pollen or to apple food.
Third-party testing: Lastly, it's important to remember that probiotics are an unregulated supplement. "Find out whether there is third-party data verifying the potency, purity, and effectiveness of the product," suggests Dena Norton, a registered dietitian and holistic nutrition coach. "Remember that dietary supplements aren't regulated, so you can't necessarily just trust the claims on the label." Check out AEProbio, a site that has compiled research on specific brands of probiotics available in the U.S., recommends Scarlata, and an NSF seal is always a good marker to look for.
Probiotic therapy may also help people with Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical trial results are mixed, but several small studies suggest that certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn's disease and the recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery to treat ulcerative colitis). Because these disorders are so frustrating to treat, many people are giving probiotics a try before all the evidence is in for the particular strains they're using. More research is needed to find out which strains work best for what conditions.
As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗
Some foods are made by adding bacteria — yogurt, pickles, cottage cheese, kombucha, and sauerkraut are good examples. Those foods work to provide the same probiotic benefits as supplements. However, most foods are so processed and pasteurized that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same benefits, let alone the right strains, as you would with a supplement. Regardless, it can’t hurt to get extra probiotics through your diet.
Remember that dietary supplements are not tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration like medications. And the probiotic strains in the supplements may not be specific for the condition you're looking to treat. You may want to consult with a practitioner, like a registered dietitian, who is familiar with probiotics. Always tell your physician what you are doing that may affect your health.
Cleaning up your diet to remove things that bother you and to add nutrients you and your microbiota need, physical activity to reduce stress and increase feel-good neurotransmitters, mindfulness to discover how your thoughts affect your feelings, and daily consumption of probiotic pills and foods are easy ways to improve your mental health outlook.