Do Probiotics Help with Anxiety and Depression?

Do Probiotics Help with Anxiety and Depression?

Okay, if you haven’t heard all the fanfare for probiotics from watching TV commercials, visiting your local grocery store, or even reading my blog posts, then you might be asking yourself, what are probiotics?  As I’ve previously posted, probiotics are essentially dietary supplements or functional foods that contain potentially beneficial bacteria or yeast.

Research suggests that probiotics may have beneficial effects at preventing traveler’s diarrhea, treating allergic rhinitis, and reducing gastrointestinal symptoms.  Recently, Canadian researchers from Toronto, published a study in the journal, Gut Pathogens, on the effects of probiotic cultures on the emotional symptoms in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Rao et al, 2009).  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex illness with no clearly understood etiology or specific cause.  Emotional symptoms of CFS are most commonly of an anxiety nature.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is a complex and often misunderstood disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest and worsens with physical or mental activity. This condition affects millions worldwide, yet its causes remain largely unknown, and it is often underdiagnosed.

The primary symptom of CFS is persistent fatigue that significantly impacts daily activities and isn’t relieved by rest. This fatigue is not just ordinary tiredness; it’s a deep, debilitating exhaustion that can make simple tasks feel insurmountable. In addition to fatigue, patients with CFS may experience a wide range of other symptoms, including but not limited to:

  1. Post-exertional malaise (PEM): A worsening of symptoms following physical or mental exertion.
  2. Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, unrefreshing sleep, and other sleep disorders.
  3. Cognitive impairments: Problems with memory, focus, and concentration, often referred to as “brain fog.”
  4. Muscle and joint pain: Unexplained muscle soreness, headaches, and joint pain without redness or swelling.
  5. Other symptoms: These can include sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, and extreme sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells.

The cause of CFS is not yet fully understood. Researchers speculate that it may be triggered by a combination of factors, including viral infections, immune system problems, hormonal imbalances, and psychological stress. There is no single test to diagnose CFS; it is typically a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning doctors must rule out other possible causes of fatigue before confirming a CFS diagnosis.

Treatment for CFS focuses on symptom management and improving quality of life. This can include:

  • Pacing: Learning to balance activity and rest to avoid exacerbating symptoms.
  • Medication: To manage pain, sleep disturbances, and other specific symptoms.
  • Physical therapy: Gentle exercise programs to gradually increase activity levels without triggering PEM.
  • Counseling: Psychological support to cope with the challenges of living with a chronic illness.

Living with CFS can be challenging, not just physically but also emotionally and socially. The unpredictable nature of the symptoms can make it difficult to maintain a normal daily routine. Furthermore, because CFS is an “invisible illness” with no outward signs, sufferers often face misunderstanding and skepticism from others, including healthcare professionals.

It’s essential for those living with CFS to have a strong support system and access to healthcare providers who understand the condition. Advocacy and awareness are also crucial. As research continues, there is hope for more effective treatments and a deeper understanding of this complex condition.

CFS is a reminder of the intricate balance of the human body and the importance of listening to and respecting our physical and mental limits. It underscores the need for compassion and understanding in addressing chronic illnesses, where the path to healing is as much about support and understanding as it is about medical intervention.

Probiotics for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study:

Patients with CFS in this study were randomized to receive 24 billion colony forming units of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS) or placebo daily for 2 months.  Researchers found a significant rise in both Lactobacillus casei as well as bifidobacteria in the stools of the intervention group.  Additionally, the researchers found a significant decline in anxiety symptoms (Beck Anxiety Inventory) in those taking LcS (p=0.01).

  • In patients with CFS, supplementation with Lactobacillus casei strain Shirtoa for 2 months, resulted in statistically signficant reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Bottom line: Keep in mind that the results of this study are specific to this species/strain of probiotic. Participants in this study also suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. More research is necessary to clarify the role of specific probiotics for relieving anxiety symptoms.


  • Rao AV, Bested AC, Beaulne TM, Katzman MA, Iorio C, Berardi JM, Logan AC.  A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.  Gut Pathog. 2009 Mar 19;1(1):6.
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