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This article is shared with permission from our friends at Vitagene.

Believe it or not, anxiety is normal. Many people experience feelings of anxiety — such as panic and fear, for example — at some point during their lives, but for some, these emotions really can be severe and, in some cases, quite debilitating. This is very common. It peaks between the ages of 30 and 44, and 18 percent of Americans suffer with at least one episode each and every year. That’s why understanding more about what causes anxiety, and the best ways to treat mental health conditions, is so important.

What Causes Anxiety?

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Genes and environmental factors may sometimes play a role, but experts are starting to expand their thinking and many are now looking into other potential causes and associations. Diet and nutrition is a main factor that’s currently being explored, along with a possible link between gut health and anxiety.

The Probiotics-Anxiety Link

The link between gut health and anxiety (which is referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis’) may prove to be effective to take probiotics for anxiety and depression. Studies have already shown that people who suffer with anxiety often also display symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, too, such as bloating, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. These are known as ‘co-occurring disorders’, and it provides quite significant backing for a strong gut-brain link.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria (‘good’ bacteria) and yeasts which benefit the body and help to keep ‘bad’ bacteria at bay. There’s many different types of probiotics, like Lactobacillus rhamnosus (L. rhamnosus), with each having similar yet ultimately different benefits for the body. Although consuming live cultures may seem strange, many people actually ingest probiotics on a regular basis without even realizing it; probiotics are found in foods such as yogurts, sourdough breads, and sauerkraut, for example.

Benefits of Probiotics

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One of the biggest benefits of probiotics is their apparent effect on anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Interestingly, it seems that probiotics for mood don’t just help in a single way; they have an influence over many different aspects that are believed to increase the risk of anxiety:

  1. Increases levels of tryptophan which helps to make serotonin; the ‘happy hormone’
  2. Reduces inflammation (it is possible that depression is an inflammatory disease)
  3. Some strains, like L. rhamnosus, reduce levels of stress hormone corticosterone
  4. Other strains, like B. infantis, may actually possess natural antidepressant properties

What is the Best Probiotic for Mental Health?

Many different probiotics can help anxiety and depression. However, studies tend to focus on a limited number of easily-accessible strains. Lactobacillus helveticus (L. helveticus) and Bifidobacterium longum(B. longum) have both been found to be good probiotics for brain health, and for anxiety.

Sources of Probiotics

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As there are a lot of ingredients that naturally contain probiotics, it is possible to eat a diet high in anti-anxiety foods. Foods for anxiety include Korean kimchi, Japanese miso, pickles, and some dairy products like cheeses and even dark chocolate! Probiotic supplements are also widely available, and you can buy probiotic drinks in many stores. There is currently no official probiotics dosage, although it is typically advised that, in order to enjoy the benefits of probiotics, 1-2 capsules containing 1 billion to 10 billion colony-forming units should be taken several times per week, or follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Are Probiotics for Anxiety Safe?

Probiotics are safe, and probiotics side effects are rare. Some people may experience mild gastrointestinal upset, which usually occurs within the first 3 days of increasing probiotic intake, and later subsides. Probiotics may increase the risk of adverse side effects of certain drugs, particularly antibiotics, diet remedies, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants.

Want to know whether probiotics are right for you? Vitagene provides actionable intelligence about your ancestry, health traits, and helps you create healthy, lasting change in your life with a diet, exercise, and supplement recommendations based on your DNA, lifestyle, family history, and goals. 

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