Woman is not depressed because she takes probiotics

Probiotics May Help Antidepressants Work Better

Probiotics May Help Antidepressants Work Better

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Depression and depressive disorders are the most common mental health concerns in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2019 survey showed that 18.5% of adults in the US experience either mild, severe, or moderate depression.

For depressed patients, antidepressant medication can help them feel like "themselves" again—and potentially avoid a downward spiral of depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, however, sometimes antidepressants don't have the desired effect. But treatment for depression may have an unlikely ally: probiotics.

A recent study by researchers from the University of Basel has shown that probiotics can support antidepressant treatment when prescribed as an add-on therapy. While depressive symptoms decreased in all study participants, there was a stronger reduction in depressive symptoms in the group receiving probiotics compared to the placebo group.

"With additional knowledge of the specific effect of certain bacteria, it may be possible to optimize the bacterium selection and use the best mix to support treatment for depression," the authors stated.

The link between gut health and mental health

The researchers from the University of Basel analyzed data of 41 participants with current depressive events in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Participants took either a multi-strain probiotic or a placebo over 31 days, in addition to their as-usual depression treatment. The daily probiotic dose contained 900 billion CFU/day, and was mixed with a cold, non-carbonated drink.

Researchers measured the microbiome profile and used neuroimaging to detect changes within the participants' gut-brain axis. The participants also underwent depression and anxiety assessments before, immediately after, and again four weeks after the probiotic intervention. The results showed that Hamilton Depression Rating Scale scores, an instrument that measures the frequency and intensity of depressive symptoms, decreased over time. That decrease was stronger in the probiotic group than in the placebo group.

The researchers also noticed that the probiotic administration maintained microbial diversity in the gut microbiota and increased the bacterium abundance of Lactobacillus species (not seen in the placebo group). This Lactobacillus increase was associated with a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, and positive changes in brain areas involved in emotional processing in the probiotic group.

Probiotics and antidepressants: Do they work together?

Previous studies have shown that patients with depression show poor bacteria-gut-brain health and digestive discomforts. This recent study supports previous findings, showing that probiotic treatment can help improve depressive symptoms, maintain a healthy microbiome profile, and positively impact the gut's microbiota (which includes trillions of microorganisms residing in the intestinal tract) and mental health.

These findings highlight the role of the mind-gut axis in major depression. Still, more research is needed to determine if there's a strain-specific probiotic that's more beneficial in treating depression and anxiety symptoms.

Are probiotics effective for depression?

So, can probiotics boost your mood on their own? They can. Probiotics can be helpful for mild mood-related symptoms, but in patients with clinical depression they may not be enough. But this recent study shows that probiotic administration as an additional therapy can help enhance the efficacy of antidepressant medication to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

There's no question that probiotics (whether you get them from fermented foods or other sources in your diet, or as an extract) can offer a plethora of whole-body health benefits that support a healthy gut microbiome. But there's more research needed to determine if probiotics on their own can help treat depression. For now, probiotics have been shown to complement treatment for depressive disorders.

Can I take probiotics with antidepressants?

Yes! But as with anything else you choose to put in your body, you should speak with your doctor or nutritionist before adding probiotics or any other dietary extracts to your daily habits. As this recent study shows, probiotics—in addition to therapy and medication—can provide a gut-based approach to maintaining emotional well-being and mental health.

Which probiotics are best for depression?

More research is needed to determine if there is a bacterium of a specific species that can help treat depression. But some studies show probiotics that contain stains of a bacterium like Lactobacillus helvetica Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium longum Rosell-175 help improve mood in healthy individuals.

Pro tip: Support the microbiota in your gut by incorporating prebiotics to your meals; these foods provide fibers like inulin, which are a food source for your gut microbiota.

5 ways to tackle depression

Depression isn't an easy monster to tackle, and some days are tougher than others. Be kind to yourself when you notice therapy and antidepressants aren't helping like you thought they would; everyone has a unique biology and some of us can be treatment-resistant. And truth be told, there's no "magic spell" that can get you over depression or "fix" your anxiety.

Seeking treatment is the first step to overcoming depression. Your doctor or psychiatrist can guide you in building daily habits that support mental health. Plus, there are strategies that can help you manage depressive-like or anxiety-like feelings. Here are five ways that can help you combat depression.

  1. Get moving

    —Running a mile may be the last thing you want to do when you're feeling down, but incorporating regular exercise into your routine can do wonders for your mental health (and physical health, of course). Whether it's running, swimming, Pilates, or biking, aim for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week to get the mind-boosting benefits of exercise. And you can strengthen and tone large muscle groups with weightlifting or high-intensity training.
    Pro tip: Prioritize restful sleep and stress management. They are pivotal components of overall health.
  2. Eat balanced meals

    —Focus on supporting your microbiome-gut-brain axis by incorporating nutrient-dense and antioxidant-rich foods—like the ones in the MIND diet—into your meals. Think lean proteins, healthy fats, leafy greens, vegetables, whole grains, and minimize the consumption of sugary, processed foods.
    Pro tip: In addition to probiotics, nutrients like ashwagandha and l-theanine support a healthy stress response and help promote microbiota-gut-brain balance.
  3. Cuddle your pooch

    —Hugging your furry companion sends a rush of "happy hormones" that boost your mood by releasing neurotransmitters like serotonin and oxytocin.
  4. Make some "me time"

    —Acknowledging how you're feeling and taking the steps to calm yourself and address the situation can be terrific in managing depressive-like symptoms. Prioritize well-being and do something that makes you happy. Self-care activities are essential to tackling depression.
  5. Spend time in nature

    —Nature heals your soul and an uplifts your mood. A large body of research shows that spending time in nature can help reduce depressive symptoms, stress, and anxiety—there's a reason getting away from city life and into the woods (mountains, beach, jungle) has an overall calming effect.

Let's recap: Your gut and brain are intimately linked and can influence one another—there's a reason your stomach can feel discomfort when you're struggling with anxiety. People with major depressive disorder can benefit from pharmaceuticals for depression, but sometimes conventional treatments aren't enough. Previous studies show that depression symptoms are associated with an imbalanced gut-brain connection. This recent study highlights the potential benefits of using probiotics as an add-on therapy to improve depression, encourage healthy emotional processing and promote mental health.



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