Regulating gut bacteria could alleviate anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in the United States, with around 40 million adults impacted.

Anxiety is usually treatable, though only about 40% of people suffering from anxiety will seek help.

According to a review of 21 studies published in the journal General Psychiatryregulating your gut bacteria may help relieve the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Right now, there are a few trillion microorganisms taking up residence in your gut. These microorganisms, sometimes called a microbiota, do not simply exist but can actually have a significant impact on your overall health. Your microbiota can have an important impact on your metabolism, your immune system, and may even help regulate brain functions. These microorganisms can be supplemented but also can be found naturally in some foods, like yogurt.

Of the 21 studies reviewed by a team of researchers at the Shanghai Mental Health Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, 14 chose probiotics as an intervention to regulate intestinal bacteria, while 7 did not. 11 of the 21 studies showed a positive impact on the symptoms of anxiety when regulating intestinal microbiota was employed as an anxiety control method.

But before you pick up a tub of yogurt, it should be acknowledged that non-probiotic methods of treating anxiety were more effective than using probiotics alone. Researchers believe this could be the case for a number of reasons. Changing your diet may be more effective at introducing new microbiota than supplements, and some studies used multiple microorganisms that may have competed with one another and cancelled each other out to some degree.

Those studies that used both probiotic supplements and other anxiety control methods got positive results with participants reporting fewer symptoms of anxiety.

Adverse side-effects of the probiotic supplements were not widespread among these studies. Most participants did not experience any side-effects, though some did report dry mouth and diarrhea from the probiotic supplements. For most suffering from anxiety, trying probiotic supplements probably couldn’t hurt.

Researchers are confident in the findings of their review. They assert that the quality of the 21 studies reviewed was high.

“We find that more than half of the studies included showed it was positive to treat anxiety symptoms by regulation of intestinal microbiota,” the researchers concluded.

“There are two kinds of interventions (probiotic and non-probiotic interventions) to regulate intestinal microbiota, and it should be highlighted that the non-probiotic interventions were more effective than the probiotic interventions. More studies are needed to clarify this conclusion since we still cannot run meta-analysis so far.”

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