Probiotics for Stress

January 4, 2022

Feeling stressed?


Can you remember the last time you felt stressed? Chances are, you don’t need to think hard. You may even feel stressed now. As we find ourselves in an increasingly stressful environment, the need for a solution is growing. This is where probiotics for stress come in. 


There are many ways we can tackle stress. You can release some of that pent-up nervous energy in a bout of exercise. You can find our Zen in a yoga session or talk to a therapist, a coach or with a friend over coffee. You can also look at the supplement aisle in our nearest supermarket or pharmacy. 

 

Supplements for stress are growing in popularity. Have a look next time you go shopping - you will see a range of options, from herbs that we know, have been around since ancient times, to novel products such as probiotics for stress - the new kids on the block. 


Let's start with the basics


A probiotic is a live microorganism that, when ingested in adequate quantities, helps maintain a healthy gut environment. The role of the microbiota, the millions of bacteria that live in our gut, in maintaining our health, is now well-established among experts. We know the microbiota is closely connected to digestive and immune health. 


How did we get from digestive and immune health to probiotics for stress? Emerging evidence is now pointing a finger towards supplements and stress relief and the microbiota as a crucial player in our mental wellbeing through a signaling pathway called the gut-brain axis. Early studies in rodents showed that manipulating the animal’s microbiota resulted in changes in the animal’s behavior in high-stress situations. More recent human studies have demonstrated that probiotic supplements may lead to the improvement of stress-related physical symptoms or psychological distress measures.*

How do probiotics for stress work?


The complexity of the gut-brain axis means we can’t pinpoint a single mechanism of action. Probiotics for stress may exert their effect by altering the composition or activity of our gut microbiota. The gut microbiota produces a myriad of hormones (most of the serotonin in our bodies is made by gut bacteria), neurotransmitters, and anti-inflammatory factors, all of which can affect the signaling pathways between the brain and the gut.*


Another mechanism of action of probiotics for stress lies in their potential to reinforce the gut lining and stop harmful bacteria or other pro-inflammatory particles from leaking into the bloodstream and driving inflammation up. Studies show that high-stress conditions can lead to a higher risk of ‘leaky’ gut.*   


The practicalities


So how to take probiotics? Going back to the supermarket or pharmacy aisle, there is a growing variety of probiotic supplements for stress in all forms and compositions. They can come in a single or multi-strain formulation, they can be in the form of a capsule, chewable gummy, or dissolvable powder. The jury is still out as to which may be the better option.


For now, it’s a question of what works best for you in terms of convenience and preference. There is no agreement among experts yet as to what the best time to take a probiotic is, although one study found no difference between taking a probiotic supplement before or after a meal. Due to the many protocols when it comes to how to take a probiotic, it’s best to check the manufacturer’s guidelines. 


In terms of composition, multi-strain might confer a broader range of benefits than a single strain probiotic supplement. One thing to be aware of when looking at the ingredients list of a probiotic supplement - their effects on health are strain-specific. This means that a probiotic for stress will not be the same as a probiotic for digestive health, although some strains can overlap.


Probiotics don’t always become permanent residents in our guts. More often than not, our microbiota will revert to its baseline not long after we have stopped taking a supplement, so its about when to take probiotics! Long-term supplementation is necessary to maintain the positive effects. 


So in the end? 


Probiotics are the new player in the supplements for stress landscape, showing promising results in our quest for that much-needed stress relief.* Why not take it one step further? A healthy diet will support a healthy microbiota. The good bugs in our gut like foods high in fiber, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, pulses, and whole grains and dislike high amounts of ultra-processed foods high in fat and sugar. Ultimately, laying all our eggs in one basket when it comes to stress relief may be too optimistic. A holistic approach, taking care of our body and mind may well stand the highest chance of success by tackling stress from both sides - the physical and the psychological.

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