Probiotics in That Gut of Yours | Soothing the Mood and Anxiety Disordered Beast?

Major Depressive Disorder

Who would have thought something called lactobacillus would be mentioned as a remedy for anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder? I mean, where did that come from? Fact is, seems as though probiotics are good for what ails mood and anxiety disorder folk. So we gotta’ dig-in…

‘Psychobiotic?’ Dr. Timothy Dinan and pals from University College Cork (Ireland) have come up with a definition: a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.

About a year ago I posted a piece on probiotics and the mood and anxiety disorders. Several clients have brought the topic up recently, so I decided to tidy-up the article and zing it your way once more.

Probiotics – pro (“for”) biotic/bios (“life”) – are live bacteria that assist in maintaining the natural balance of organisms in our intestines. It’s thought the digestive tract contains some 400 varieties of probiotic bacteria that serve to reduce the growth of harmful bacteria, promoting a shipshape digestive system. The most common outside sources of probiotics are yogurt with live cultures, yeast, and supplements.

A relatively new field, microbial endocrinology, studies the relationship between our digestive tract and mood and behavior. Researchers in the field have come to the conclusion that digestive system microbes can regulate the endocrine system  – the collection of cells, glands, and tissues that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream, managing our physiological and behavioral activities.

Gut/Brain Communication

Now, the endocrine system is the lead responder when it comes to the stress-hits our bodies take. Without it, and dispatched neurotransmitters and hormones, there would be no fight-or-flight response. Neither would there be the “feel-good” effects of serotonin, dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

So, according to microbial endocrinologists, here’s the flow: digestive system microbiota influence the endocrine system, which influences our mood and behavior. And that sure as heck equates to gut/brain communication, one of the conduits being the vagus nerve.

Interesting how they came up with that. Folks enduring irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and depression. Actually, the relationship is reciprocal because both can exacerbate IBS symptoms. Enter the neurotransmitter GABA. When supplies are low, anxiety and/or depression may run high. Digestive system bacteria lactobacillus and bifidobacterium have been shown to produce GABA. And several studies have shown that supplements of either can relieve anxiety in those suffering from IBS.

More evidence? The gastrointestinal bacterium clostridium difficile is typically acquired during infancy. It synthesizes at least two toxins that interfere with neurons and possibly the endocrine system. Fascinatingly, those enduring autism and schizophrenia have been shown to have higher than normal levels of this bacterial species.

Bottom-line? An imbalance in digestive tract microbiota can manifest as both physiological and emotional/mental woes. And it appears they can be resolved with the use of targeted probiotic – “psychobiotic” – bacteria.

“Psychobiotics,” You Say?

“Psychobiotic?” Dr. Timothy Dinan and pals from University College Cork (Ireland) have come up with a definition: a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.

In their research, Dinan and the gang cited existing evidence that when these bacteria are ingested in adequate amounts the treatment potential is huge for depression and other “stress-related disorders.”

The team noted that gut microbiota can change on a daily basis. And there’s even evidence that the form of birth (vaginal or C-Section) can alter one’s microbiota. But there’s more. Early life stress, such as maternal separation, is known to induce long-term changes in the microbiome.

Dinan and the bunch reviewed a study that assessed the potential benefits of a specific probiotic in rats displaying depressive behavior due to maternal separation. Turns out probiotic treatment normalized their behavior, as well as their previously abnormal immune response.

Some probiotics have even been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. And that’s huge because both depression and stress are associated with inflammation.

Now, as exciting as this is, you have to keep in mind that only a small percentage of probiotics can be considered psychobiotics. And there’s much work to be done on identifying them. Actually, the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) at University College Cork is now looking to develop psychobiotics as “medical foods” with an industry partner.

Let’s Tie a Bow

Dang, there’s just so much great research going-on these days in an effort to bring relief to folks enduring mood and anxiety misery. So often it involves chemicals that hold the potential to harm our brains – our bodies. But here we have a creative relief proposition that comes off as being so safe (okay, I’ll say it – “natural”).

Yeah, lactobacillus and other pro/psychobiotics. Perhaps a new age answer to major depressive disorder, the anxiety disorders, and other tormenting emotional/mental situations. I can handle that.


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  • DeanDD December 3, 2014, 1:26 pm

    Great topic, Bill. I started taking probiotics about 4 years ago after a bout of diverticulitis (yuck). I originally took them to help my digestive system, but a funny thing happened: I found that my overall health–including my emotional health–got better after I started taking them. I’d recommend probiotics to anyone. Thanks for bringing this subject to the forefront.

    • Chipur December 3, 2014, 5:28 pm

      Hey, DeanDD – thank you for the visit and participation. Really good to have some validation here. Sharing your story helps a bunch (there goes that sharing, learning, healing thing again). I’m looking forward to developments on the psychobiotic front. I mean, it’s my opinion it could be just huge for those suffering from emotional/mental health woes – as well as those in your substance use/recovery neck of the woods. By the way, readers, check-out Dean’s creative and good work at

      You know, I remember the days when stomach ulcers were attributed to poor eating habits, worry, etc. And then it was discovered it was a bacterial issue (as I recall), and it changed everything. Perhaps development of psychobiotics is such a positive and lasting change.

      Thanks, man…

  • David Cooke December 3, 2014, 1:48 pm

    Thanks for a very specific application of healthy eating choices. We receive constant reminders how mental and physical health are linked to exercise and diet. Yet, we still make conscious choices otherwise. Sometimes change doesn’t have to be to the entire diet; but, simply a singular change as a component of one. Certainly, probiotics offer an easy, beneficial option.

    • Chipur December 3, 2014, 6:06 pm

      Hey, David, you’re welcome. And thank you for stopping-on-by and contributing. Yes, the change doesn’t have to be all-encompassing – a few well-considered and targeted hits go a loooong way. And that’s what’s so cool about the work being done by the folks at APC. They’re working hard to discover those “targeted hits” and bring them to us. I think that means some very good healing things lie ahead.

      Come on back, okay???

      P.S. Check-out David’s good work at

  • npeden December 3, 2014, 8:46 pm

    Well, good shit here, Bill. I am very pleased you have revisited this important topic. As readers here may remember, I have MTHFR c677t and am highly mutated in almost all my neurotransmitters. I can’t “down regulate” dopamine or glutamate and my understanding is that glutamate down regulation creates GABA, so I probably don’t have much of that. When we can’t tranform glutamate to GABA we can’t relax. I have long said it is like I have no parasympathetic nervous system. And depression….I have known most of my life but no more.

    I have, thanks to Obamacare, gotten a bright psych who after three sessions, had me tested for MTHFR because one of its symptoms is you do not respond to antidepressants and I have been before this year, on em all. I have gene mutations for most of the illnesses that they put us on all these drugs for: Bipolar, ADD, MDD, GAD and Schizophrenia are in my mutations. Both my mother and grandmother were institutionalized for mental illness. Really breaks my heart and I am committed to breaking this cycle if I can. As of now, I am undiagnosable and passionflower tincture is my antidepressant. It works on my mutated MAO A snp (piece of a gene).

    After being put on Deplin by this psych, a big Pharma treatment for MTHFR, I got sick as a dog.

    I started to do my own research and found that MTHFR is mostly treated through diet and supplements. I joined two excellent genetic sites, Phoenix Rising and MTHFR Community on google+ and learned a tremendous amount, some of it sophisticated scientific articles but the best was people telling their stories of how sick they are or have been and how they are working with themselves. There I learned to find a genetic naturopath who got me started on the right supps but did nothing for the “dysbiosis” (toxicity) in my insides. Then I got a great referral from one member using a nutritionist out of VT and as her first half hour is free, I got on board. She follows you for 6 months. Her site is She is a degreed nutritionist and also MTHFR.

    Well, she has me on a great new diet. I have lost six more pounds (Zolipidem and night eating had me up to 170. I am now 144.) The food is great and based on my genetics.

    Now I just started on the probiotics she uses (actually called a pre and probiotic). She said no to most lactobacillus or bifidum that you mostly hear cited. I took L. rhamnous, which is supposed to help form GABA in the gut but felt nothing. I have probably taken everyone that is out there. They are all still in my fridge.

    The one Meredith has me on is all based on natural soil organisms we need so badly for so many things; I don’t recognize any of the species.

    The brand she has me on is Prescript Assist.( ) and though I have only taken it one day, I have noticed a huge difference in my bowels. This is no small thing for someone genetically mutated for gut flora. Please note on the page I cited for them, one thing they say:

    “As such, imbalances in our microbial communities have been implicated in countless health issues, including immune health, psychological well-being, and some of the deepest chronic health issues of our times.

    In fact, research surrounding one such connection, coined the gut-brain axis, has the potential to revolutionize the way psychologists worldwide support mental and emotional well being.”

    Meredith also says it helps produce Vitamin K which may or may not help calcium (I make too much) move into bones and not into arteries and the heart. (MTHFR has a high rate of heart disease; it is rampant in my family. (I will let you look up Vit. K in wikipedia)

    I don’t know if this probiotic will help me make more GABA but I am hopeful. Here is a nice pop article on the gut and neurotransmitters

    Bill has done such a nice job here and I have run on a bit but I highly recommend Prescript Assist and will keep you posted as my personal microbiome heals. A world in our guts! I am very excited to be a part of the personal medicine revolution.

    BTW the Asians have long thought that the real brain is our gut, our joriki or firepot. Just like that ole vagus nerve Bill wrote about. We are pretty interesting animals, eh?

    • Chipur December 3, 2014, 9:14 pm

      Dang, Nancy – what a great contribution. Thank you so much for visiting.

      Nancy has presented rubber-meets-the-road acquired and tested material here. I encourage everyone to read what she’s shared. What an education.

      And that’s what’s so strong about what we do here. I, or a guest-poster, can kick things off with an article – and others can expand the message – and learning – with comments. Nice.

      Again, thank you, Nancy, for your valuable input…


      • npeden December 3, 2014, 9:37 pm

        Don’t know how to insert a smile here but many thanks, Bill.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh December 3, 2014, 11:48 pm

    Interesting, Bill. Good to know that probiotics can make that kind of a difference. I don’t take them, but may consider it in the future after reading your post and the comments. Great topic – thank you.

    • Chipur December 4, 2014, 9:20 am

      Hey, you’re welcome, Cathy. And thank you for winging-by and taking the time to comment. This is really cool stuff, to be sure…

  • Lisa Frederiksen | BreakingThe December 6, 2014, 9:48 pm

    It’s so nice to have this concept broken down like only you can do, Bill! (Although the topic reminds me of our friend, Herby Bell :) )

    It makes so much sense, now, and I especially resonated with this section, “Now, the endocrine system is the lead responder when it comes to the stress-hits our bodies take. Without it, and dispatched neurotransmitters and hormones, there would be no fight-or-flight response. Neither would there be the “feel-good” effects of serotonin, dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).” For those of us working with people affected by addiction, substance misuse or secondhand drinking | drugging, these are huge, which points to the significance of incorporating probiotics in one’s diet / supplements to counter those effects.

    • Chipur December 7, 2014, 12:28 pm

      Doc Bell would be proud of me, huh. It’s just so important to understand what goes on inside our bods – and why we do what we do. I mean, if we aren’t familiar with the owner’s manual, we’re not going to know what to do when something goes wrong – as it most assuredly will. You do such a great job of that on your site, Lisa. Readers, check-out her work on second-hand drinking at

      I think this psychobiotics thing has tons to offer, with lots more to come. Just you wait and see. Appreciate your visit and contribution, Lisa – as always…


  • JAnn January 3, 2015, 8:20 pm

    I am very excited about this topic. For many, many years, I had IBS with frequent, terrible cramping. That has, for whatever reason, mercifully gone away, but my anxiety levels are noticeably higher. It feels right to me, this brain/gut connection, and I am going to get some good probiotics *and* take them too. Thanks!

    • Chipur January 4, 2015, 2:58 pm

      Hey, JAnn – appreciate your visit and contribution. Keep comin’ back, okay?

      Pro/psychobiotics is a happenin’ topic, isn’t it? And I believe there’s much to be excited about. And, really, we’re at the early stages of discovery and development. When it comes to connecting the dots pertaining to mood/anxiety contributors and healing – why not the gut?

      Hey, update us here along your journey, won’t you? I’m sure anything you discover will be helpful to us all.

      Thank You, JAnn…


      • JAnn January 4, 2015, 4:21 pm

        :~} Just shows one should never say never. Not more than an hour passed between the time I wrote that I no longer have IBS symptoms until I had IBS symptoms again. Once again proving the point I’d say.

        I will let you all know if the probiotics are helpful. We could all use something helpful!

      • Chipur January 4, 2015, 4:41 pm

        That “never” biz can catch up with us, huh. Well, it’s on to those probiotics, right? Hang in there, JAnn. Will look forward to your sharing in the coming days…


      • JAnn January 22, 2015, 11:29 am

        Update: I’ve been taking some good probiotics along with liquid fish oil combined with vitamin D3 for about three weeks, and I am feeling better! I could have experimented with one at a time, but I didn’t want to wait that long to feed my brain or my gut. The physical change is subtle but ongoing, but the anxiety reduction is very very clear. Not sure if it’s all due to the combo of supplements, but they’ve got to be players. Even helping my benzo withdrawal I am sure. Yay! Thanks again for this article!

      • Chipur January 22, 2015, 12:50 pm

        Nice update, JAnn – thank you. Thing is, you’re taking action vs. stalling amid your misery. And good for you! Get going all out and see how those supplements work for you. Glad you’re feeling positive results. Knock-out that benzo taper/withdrawal!!! So appreciate your participation. BTW, Chipur readers – here’s a link to my latest benzo article


      • esklader January 26, 2015, 11:19 pm

        Having a daughter with both digestive and anxiety issues, I am very interested in this whole topic. I am curious, though, how one selects a “good” pro/psycho biotic. So many out there, how do I know which are considered the better ones for this? Any help is much appreciated. Thanks!

      • Chipur January 27, 2015, 10:30 am

        Hey, esklader – thank you for stopping-by and participating. Glad you found something with which you (and your daughter) could connect. I’d delve-in to and see what you can see. Heck, they even have a Personalized Probiotic Finder. Pretty cool. Let’s us know what you come up with, k?

  • Pete September 28, 2017, 9:05 pm

    This is a fascinating topic. A friend of mine, Pam, has been looking into probiotics and the science, while still emerging, is promising. This is the first I’ve heard of “psychobiotics”, but if it can help with digestive and immune issues, why not? Thanks for highlighting this emerging trend.

    • Chipur September 29, 2017, 9:34 am

      Well, seems ‘ole Pete is doing some marketing for his friend Pam. But that’s okay – probiotics is a worthy topic, so I approved the comment. He presents a link, which goes to I just hit it and it appears to be safe. I might add, I use a probiotic formulated for mood. You can find same at quality “health” stores.