When you think of anxiety, you probably think of work stress, home stress, and family stress. You probably never consider what happens in your gut as a relevant factor for your emotional health. But anxiety and depression are increasingly being linked to gastrointestinal conditions as I found while researching my book.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition in the United States, affecting 40 million adults or about eighteen percent of the population. Anxiety disorders range from panic attacks to obsessive compulsive disorder, or generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress.
In an exciting study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology and conducted at the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Canada, researchers found that the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum effectively eliminated anxiety and normalized behavior in animals. It appeared to work by reducing the excitability of nerves in the gut that connect via the vagus nerve to the central nervous system. Through this connection, the beneficial bacterial strain was able to eliminate anxiety altogether.
In a Hungarian study, researchers found that intestinal inflammation is one of the factors involved in anxiety and depression and that treating the inflammation through probiotics such as B. longum along with vitamins B and D, and omega-3 fatty acids, significantly reduced symptoms.
That’s great news for anxiety sufferers, many of whom rely on medications that have a lengthy list of side-effects. The most common drugs used for anxiety include: Xanax, Valium, Atavan, and Klonopin. All of these drugs fall into a category of medications known as benzodiazepines which can be helpful but also have a whole host of side-effects, including: blurred vision, clumsiness, confusion, depression, disorientation, dizziness, drowsiness, impaired thinking and judgement, memory loss, nausea, slurred speed, and more.
Obviously more research is necessary to better understand the role of specific probiotics like B. longum as a treatment for anxiety disorders, but considering the health benefits of this strain, the probiotic presents a potential natural option for anxiety sufferers.
Not all probiotic supplements contain this particular strain so check to see if it does. While it is important to have a high potency probiotic, contrary to popular thinking selecting a good supplement is not merely a numbers game. In other words, sometimes products with claims of many billion CFU (or “colony forming units,” which is the measure of how many probiotics of a particular strain are found in the product) often don’t contain the numbers they claim to. Be sure to choose a reputable product backed by third-party laboratory testing.
Of course, check with your physician prior to starting new treatments or discontinuing any medications. For more information about the role of probiotics in the treatment of anxiety check out my article “Probiotics: a Natural Treatment for Anxiety and Depression.”