Probiotics Help With Stress and Anxiety
Written By Ana Aleksic, MSc Pharm

Probiotics Help With Stress and Anxiety

Stress takes a heavy toll on various bodily functions. Cardiac problems, psychological disturbances, GI sensitivity, you name it – virtually all body systems are targeted by stress and anxiety. Prebiotic supplements fuel the growth of the good bacteria while inhibiting the expansion of the bad ones. They can help you calm down when you’re feeling keyed up. This post will address the subject on how prebiotics act as stress relievers.

Statistics indicate that the prebiotic fiber, which serves as a food for the beneficial bacteria, can alter the thoughts, emotions, and stress and anxiety levels in a number of ways.

Prebiotics Restore the Balance of the Gut Flora

Several experts now refer to the gut as our “second brain.” The brain interacts with our gut and the friendly gut bacteria communicate with our brain, indicating that an imbalance in the gut microbiome (dysbiosis) can lead to psychological imbalances and vice versa. This dysbiosis, in particular, lower levels of bifidobacteria underlie functional bowel disorders like IBS. Also noted in IBS, is the reduced production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate. Likewise, decreased levels of both bifidobacteria and butyrate are responsible for the generation of mental disturbances like anxiety. Prebiotics, primarily fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) amplify both the number of bifidobacteria and the butyrate production. [1]

Moreover, people with IBS appear to be more sensitive to emotional stressors. Reciprocally, anxiety and stress constitute one of the most significant triggers of IBS.

By restoring the disproportion of the gut ecology, the prebiotic fiber can restore the mental serenity. [2]

Prebiotics Lower Cortisol Levels

Individuals who suffer from anxiety or depression have a more pessimistic approach to life as compared to those without these mental ailments. Findings from an interesting paper published in a scientific journal revealed that subjects who received prebiotics paid more heed to the positive information in contrast to the negative stimuli. [3] The researchers further reported that these anxiolytic effects of prebiotics were analogous to the prescription pills used for controlling anxiety and depression. The reduced cortisol levels, as measured in saliva accounted for these anxiolytic effects of prebiotics. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands as part of the flight-or-fight response during stressful events. A drop in cortisol is indicative of reduced stress levels.

Prebiotics Nurture the Good Bacteria that Facilitate the Action of GABA

Prebiotics nurture the healthy gut microbes that modulate the expression of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid), a neurotransmitter that relaxes the nerves and muscles, helping us to unwind from the day more easily. [4] The indirect relationship between prebiotics and GABA profoundly steers their use in anxiety-related disorders.


In summary, prebiotics can positively influence emotional behavior. Although studies have been mostly limited to rodents, modulation of the gut-brain axis by prebiotics is a proven novel remedy for anxiety. Further evaluation is however still required to prove the efficacy of prebiotics in anxiety.


Written by:
Dr. Rasheed Huma



    1. Scott KP, Antoine J-M, Midtvedt T, van Hemert S. Manipulating the gut microbiota to maintain health and treat disease. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 2015;26:10.3402/mehd.v26.25877. doi:10.3402/mehd.v26.25877.
    2. Roberfroid M, Gibson GR, Hoyles L et al. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2010 Aug;104 Suppl 2:S1-63. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003363.
    3. Schmidt K, Cowen PJ, Harmer CJ, Tzortzis G, Errington S, Burnet PWJ. Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology. 2015;232(10):1793-1801. doi:10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0.
    4. Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV et al. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011;108(38):16050-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1102999108.
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