The statistics regarding mood disorders in the United States are enough to make anybody depressed.
According to the 2005 National Comorbidity Survey-Replication study, almost 21 million American adults (9.5 percent of people over the age of 18) have been officially diagnosed with some type of mood disorder.1 Examples of mood disorders would include depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
Major depression, which the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) defines as two weeks of low mood that is present across most situations, is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44.1,2 Women and young adults (between the ages of 18 and 25), are more likely to suffer from any form of depression than either men or adults over the age of 50.1
There is also a well-established link between chronic illness and major depression. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that certain chronic illnesses that can be triggered by stress often go hand in hand with major depression.3
Interestingly, some recent research appears to show that taking probiotic supplements to regulate the digestive system, which can often be affected by stress, helps to improve symptoms of depression.4
What does the research show?
A group of Canadian researchers examined the effect of probiotics on symptoms of depression and anxiety in a group of 44 adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression.4 Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition known to be exaggerated by stress and depression.
The patients were followed for 10 weeks, while half the group took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001. The remaining patients served as the control placebo group. All patients also underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect changes in areas of the brain known to be associated with changes in mood.4
After six weeks, 14 of the 22 patients taking the probiotic (64 percent) scored lower on assessment of depression, compared to only seven of the 22 patients (32 percent) taking placebo).4 While anxiety symptoms did not improve for patients in either group, those taking the probiotic did report improvement on quality of life assessments.
Furthermore, the functional magnetic resonance imaging readings showed patients taking the probiotic had reduced response to negative stimuli in various areas of the brain, indicating an improvement in depression symptoms.4
The researchers concluded, “B. longum NC3001 has longstanding beneficial effects on mild to moderate comorbid depression, and it temporarily improves overall symptoms of IBS and QoL [quality of life]. This is associated with changes in activity of multiple brain areas involved in emotional processing.”
They hope to move forward with larger studies in order to replicate their initial, promising findings.4 Of course, the good news for your patients taking probiotics, who may also experience mild to moderate symptoms of depression, is that they may get additional emotional benefits from taking probiotics.
- National Comorbidity Survey. Accessed 6/8/2017
- National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed 6/8/2016.
- Chronic Illness & Mental Health. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed 6/8/2016.
- Pinto-Sanchez MI, Hall GB, Ghajar K, et al. Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 reduces depression scores and alters brain activity: A pilot study in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2017 May 5.