Can probiotic supplements lift my mood?
YES. Probiotic supplements can help keep intestines healthy, and new research suggests that bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract affect mood by communicating with the central nervous system.
Gut health matters. Stress can reduce the amount of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system, as can inflammatory cells called cytokines, which are seen at elevated levels in patients with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. In response, your GI tract, sensing an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the small intestine, sends “danger messages” to the brain, which throw off the balance of certain chemicals connected to mood. These nasty bacteria also limit your body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients.
Ease inflammation. Taking probiotics regularly can reduce the number of inflammatory cytokines, decrease oxidative stress, help your body absorb nutrients better, and correct bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
Eat yogurt. Yogurt is an easy source of probiotics. By definition, it includes the cultures Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. But to be probiotic, it should also contain Lactobacillus bifidobacteria (L. bifidus), L. acidophilus, L. casei, and L. rhamnosus. (Look for brands like Stonyfield Farm Organic and Activia.) Eating one cup of yogurt with live active cultures every day may be enough to boost your mood. Two probiotic drinks, Yakult and DanActive, contain the live cultures of L. casei as well. (Other fermented foods, such as miso and tempeh also contain strains of beneficial bacteria.)
Take a supplement. If you prefer to get your probiotics from supplements, look for ones that contain Lactobacillus GG like Culturelle (culturelle.com).
—Alan Logan, N.D., author of The Brain Diet (Cumberland House, 2007), Edgewater, N.J.