Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Cause Anxiety?

Recent research from neurobiologists at Oxford University has uncovered evidence of a potential link between the bacteria in our gut and the quality of our mental health. Though the body of research on the subject has grown in recent years, most of these studies have relied on animal rather than human subjects. Using 45 human subjects, the Oxford study yields new insights between anxiety and bacteria of the gut. Participants took either a prebiotic or a placebo every day for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, researchers completed several computer tests assessing how the subjects processed emotional information, like positive and negatively charged words.

New Findings

Researchers found that “prebiotics,” supplements designed to boost healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, may have an anti-anxiety effect. This significant new information suggests that prebiotics may alter how people process emotional information. One test from the study revealed that subjects who had taken the prebiotic paid less attention to negative information and more attention to positive information. When compared to the placebo group, the prebiotic group experienced less anxiety towards negative stimuli. A similar effect has been observed among individuals taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Another interesting detail emerging from the study is that prebiotic subjects had lower levels of “cortisol,” a stress hormone linked to anxiety and depression.

Why Is This Research Important?

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Philip Burnet, “prebiotics are ‘food’ for good bacteria already present in the gut. Taking prebiotics, therefore, increases the numbers of all species of good bacteria in the gut, which will theoretically have greater beneficial effects than [introducing] a single species.” Similar findings have been found in other studies. Research conducted by UCLA found that women who got their prebiotics through yogurt consumption exhibited signs of altered brain function when resting or while performing an emotion-recognition task. Dr. Kristen Tillisch, author of the UCLA study, stated, “Our study shows that the gut/brain connection is a two-way street.”

So what does the future hold? Will modern treatments build upon the newly found links between gut bacteria and anxiety? With the body and quality of research continuing to grow, only time will tell.

For more information about bacteria and anxiety, contact our team of Chico mental health professionals at Therapeutic Solutions. We’re here to help you live life in balance.