A Healthy Gut Could Alleviate Anxiety—Here's How

By: Lauren Wicks

More research is uncovering the link between our mental health and microbiome.

Photo: Getty Images

We all know by now that we need to take our gut health more seriously, as research shows how much of an impact our microbiome has on our overall health. A healthy gut is good for our hearts, immune systems, and weight loss. And newer research even shows a link between our gut and mental health. In fact, some studies show regulating our gut health could be the key to fighting symptoms of anxiety and depression.

A research team from Shanghai Mental Health Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine set out to discover if anxiety could really be relieved through regulating one's gut bacteria. They reviewed 21 relevant studies—14 of which regulated gut bacteria through probiotic supplementation, while six of the remaining seven used non-probiotic methods, like adjusting participants' diets.

The studies using probiotics only proved to be effective about a third of the time, but the studies that regulated gut bacteria through diet were 86 percent effective. The diet tweaks came mainly from increasing fiber intake through supplementation, or following a low-FODMAP diet.

Related: 6 Seemingly Healthy Things That Can Mess With Your Gut

The study's authors believe that non-probiotic intervention methods were more effective than using probiotics because our diets have more of a diverse impact on our microbiome (versus taking a supplement that only contains a few types of bacteria). They also noted the trials could have been too short—most lasted only a month or two—for the probiotic supplements to significantly increase the amount of new bacteria in the body.

The Bottom Line

This study is pretty fascinating and yet another strong association between gut and mental health. Just remember, there are many factors that can impact our mental health, and diet alone won't solve the problem—it might just be a useful tool.

And while probiotic supplements were less effective in gut bacteria regulation, they aren't worthless. The study's authors noted they just might take more time to populate and cause growth in your microbiome than the bacteria in food.

Other research shows eating a wide variety of plant foods is essential for a diverse, healthy microbiome. Following a high-fiber diet that is also rich in fermented foods will ensure you're keeping that gut happy and healthy. Check out our 30-Day Healthy Gut Challenge or our 7-Day Meal Plan for a Healthy Gut to get inspired!

Related: Top Fiber-Rich Foods for Good Gut Bacteria