Can probiotics help with depression?
A new research review suggests that probiotics — foods or supplements containing microbes thought to have a positive influence on our gut — could help ease depression symptoms in some people.
New Review on the Effects of Probiotics on Depression and Anxiety Symptoms
Researchers did a new review of current research on the effects of prebiotics and probiotics on depression and anxiety symptoms. Those researchers found that across seven small clinical trials, various probiotics seemed to improve symptoms in patients with clinical depression. At least, in the short term.
This builds on a growing research interest in the role of our gut health on our brain health.
Researchers from the University of Brighton and Croydon University Hospital in the United Kingdom looked at 71 studies that were published between 2003 and 2019. The studies looked at how probiotics and prebiotics — which help probiotics flourish — might help adults with depression and/or anxiety disorders.
“This is good quality research but it is a review of relatively preliminary data,” said Allan Young, a professor of mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
What does that mean? Essentially, further research is needed before we can draw any real conclusions. However, it’s looking pretty good.
Although Young wasn’t involved in the review, he is optimistic about these initial findings making a case for more research.
“While this systematic review of the research literature supports the notion that pre and probiotics may be helpful for people with anxiety and depression, more research is needed,” Young said. “These data do make a case for larger trials to be carried out.”
Probiotics Could Be Helpful, But More Research is Needed
The seven trials that were studied did show “significant improvements” when measuring the effects of taking pre- and probiotics, compared to no treatment or a placebo.
Although probiotic supplements showed measurable reductions in depression, the review doesn’t clearly show a significant effect on anxiety. Also, prebiotics on their own did not significantly reduce depression or anxiety symptoms.
Although there could be a link, experts stress that the probiotic trials had a number of limitations.
For instance, none of the included studies lasted very long, and the number of participants in each study was small.
It makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about overall effects, how long they actually lasted, and whether or not there could be side effects associated with prolonged use.
Further research would need to be done before drawing any concrete conclusions.
But for now, this new review could open up new possibilities in depression treatments in the future.