Anxiety and stress are present in our daily lives. When they persist chronically, they may contribute to many dysfunctions of the nervous system, but also of the gut microbiome. This is why emotional wellbeing is so important.

The gut is often referred to as our second brain. Our gut microbiome is unique to each of us. The amount of bacteria in our gut play a key role in reducing inflammation, and reducing stress. Inappropriate lifestyles, such as a diet rich in processed foods, saturated fatty acids, red meat, but also lack of or negligible physical activity, contribute to poor microbiota diversity and balance. In addition, the use of excessive antibiotics all play a major role in our gut microbiome, and consequently can have an impact on our mental health. [1]


Psychobiotics – what are they actually?

Let’s start with probiotics. According to the current definition, probiotics are live micro-organisms that, when administered in sufficient quantity to the body, have a beneficial effect on the human body. Probiotics are most often used as a supportive measure during and/or immediately after antibiotic therapy. In this way, our microbiome has a better chance to recover from the fight against pathogenic microorganisms.

Two scientists (Ted Dinan and John F. Cryan) introduced the definition of psychobiotics. Psychobiotics are a type of probiotic, that are characterised by their ability to produce and stimulate neurotransmitters, hormones, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFs). The gut is referred to as our second brain due to its connection to the central nervous system. Our microbiome can influence the functioning of the nervous system and the pathogenesis and development of diseases related to the nervous system. The microorganisms inhabiting the gut participate directly or indirectly in all connections of the brain-gut axis. Disturbances in the composition and quantity of the gut microbiota can affect both the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system (CNS). [2] [3] [4]


Could psychobiotics help with anxiety and depression?

The human gut contains approximately 10 14 microorganisms. The composition of the gut microbiota is unique to each person and depends on factors related to changes in the gut environment, lifestyle and eating habits. The gut is often referred to as the second brain, as the gut and brain work in two ways and can influence each other’s functions and have a significant impact on stress and depression. Many scientific studies show that lower amounts of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria are found in people with major depressive disorder. Psychobiotics can regulate neurotransmitters and proteins, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, glutamate and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which play an important role in controlling neural excitatory-inhibitory balance, mood, and cognitive function.

Patients who experience depression and/or mood decline are characterised by a significant decrease in Firmicutes. These bacteria are involved in the fermentation of carbohydrates into SCFAs, so a decrease in Firmicutes results in SCFA deficiencies and thus a weakening of the intestinal barrier. Research is still ongoing on the effects of psychobiotics on improving the treatment of depression and improving wellbeing, while we can say that psychobiotics have a beneficial effect on our wellbeing and may in future be an adjunctive therapy to pharmacotherapy in people suffering from depression. [8]

Natural psychobiotics – where do they occur? 

A recommended diet to support the gut bacteria is the Mediterranean diet, also known as the anti-inflammatory diet. The ingredients in psychobiotics have strong antioxidant properties and influence the growth or inhibition of specific gut bacteria.

Natural psychobiotics are found in whole grains and cereals, which are rich in fibre. Fruits and vegetables – especially berries. Fish, white meat, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, spices such as oregano, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon.

Fermented foods such as yoghurts, kefir or pickled foods (sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, kimchi, kombucha), also have a positive effect on the functioning of the gut-brain axis. They not only provide a source of gut bacteria, but are also a rich source of B vitamins. [7]


Are there contraindications to the use of psychobiotics?

Psychobiotics are among the supplements that are safe for health and, according to current knowledge, there are no contraindications to their use. If you have any health concerns or pre-existing medical issues, we recommend speaking to a specialist or consultant before adding more psychobiotics into the diet.  



An inadequate diet can modify the composition and adversely affect the functioning of the intestinal microflora. One suitable diet to support the gut microbiota is the Mediterranean diet also known as the anti-inflammatory diet. The gut-brain microbiota axis may represent a new direction for neuropsychiatric treatment. However, this topic requires further research. As of today, psychobiotics have a very promising role in patients with psychiatric disorders. [5] [6]

By Martyna Slotwinska, dietitian intern, revised by Reema Patel, Registered Dietitian at Dietitian Fit & Co.

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