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Should You Take Probiotics for Acid Reflux?

probiotics for acid reflux

You have probably heard about the many benefits associated with probiotics. But can you also trust probiotics for acid reflux relief? 

In this article I will describe acid reflux, how it relates to gut health, and how taking probiotics for acid reflux may help. 

What Is Acid Reflux?

Reflux happens when acidic stomach contents flow backward into the esophagus. While this happens a bit naturally, an increase in the frequency and severity of these episodes may start to cause symptoms like heartburn, tissue damage or other complications. Then it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. (1)

There are two types of GERD:

Non-erosive reflux disease (NERD) 

This is when symptoms of GERD happen without visible damage to the cells lining the esophagus. (2)

In other words, you might be experiencing symptoms of reflux but your endoscopy comes back normal. About 70% of those suffering from GERD have this NERD subtype. (3

Erosive esophagitis (EE)/Reflux esophagitis

This is a different type of GERD in which reflux episodes lead to physical damage to the mucosa or other complications. (2)  

Acid Reflux Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Standard Treatment

Symptoms of GERD can overlap with other conditions, so these might need to be ruled out before GERD is diagnosed. (1)

GERD symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Chest pain
  • Sensation of burning/pain in the esophagus 
  • Belching
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Hoarse voice 
  • Chronic cough 
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Upset stomach 
  • Early satiety 

Standard treatment of GERD is focused on managing symptoms. Treatment usually starts with a trial of medication, often proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). (4) We’ll discuss this in further detail later in this article, so hang tight. 

In addition to medication, many practitioners recommend weight loss, keeping the head of the bed elevated when sleeping, avoiding late meals, stopping the use of alcohol and tobacco, and the elimination of foods that may trigger symptoms. (4)

While these medication and lifestyle changes will certainly help in reducing symptoms, there is another aspect of reflux that is often forgotten: bacterial imbalance in the gut. 

Acid Reflux and Imbalanced Gut Bacteria

Reflux symptoms are commonly perpetuated by gut dysbiosis and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). (5)

In the case of SIBO, bacteria translocate from the large intestine to the small intestine inappropriately, where they then ferment carbohydrates. 

Both the fermentation and the presence of bacteria in the small intestine can lead to several physiological changes including decreased gastric motility, prolonged relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, and increased intraabdominal pressure. 

These terms might sound complicated, but ultimately all you need to know is that these physiological changes have been implicated in causing reflux episodes. (6)

PPIs for GERD

How do bacteria end up in the small intestine in the first place? 

One common cause is actually the PPIs used to treat acid reflux! The way these medications work is by decreasing the amount of stomach acid you produce and increasing your gut pH, so that you experience less pain when you do have reflux episodes. 

While this approach can be effective for improving symptoms, it may be detrimental to your gut over the long haul.

When you have an appropriate amount of stomach acid, your body naturally moderates the growth and balance of bacteria in your gut. An acidic stomach pH is also important for optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients and protection from pathogens. 

When stomach acid levels are low or pH is too high, this creates the perfect conditions for pathogenic or commensal bacteria to take over and grow to unhealthy levels or to grow in the wrong places (like the small intestine). 

If you have been taking PPIs, you could be at higher risk of SIBO and other potential imbalances. (7) Given the role microbial imbalance may play in reflux, it’s wise to talk with your healthcare practitioner about whether a PPI is right for you in the long run. 

Not sure if you have imbalanced gut bacteria? You may want to test your gut bacteria with a healthcare provider. If your healthcare practitioner determines that you may have SIBO or other gut imbalances, resolving them may greatly improve your reflux.

Best Probiotics for Acid Reflux

Given that an imbalance of bacteria in your gut can play a role in reflux, do probiotics help with acid reflux? Let’s talk about the current research on probiotics for acid reflux. 

Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut that are vital for both your gut and overall health. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi as well as in supplement form, which is what we’ll discuss here.

Probiotic effects are strain-specific, meaning that one strain will have an entirely different effect from another. That means it’s especially important to pay attention to the specific strains used in research — while one strain may be really great for reflux, another could have no effect whatsoever.

Unfortunately, only recently have researchers begun to disclose the specific probiotic strains they have used into their research instead of just discussing the more general probiotic species. 

To date, only 2 strains of probiotics have been studied for their potential benefit of improving reflux symptoms in adults.

The best probiotics for acid reflux include:

  • Bifodobacterium bifidum YIT 10347. This strain, given in cultured milk to healthy adults, was shown to improve GERD related symptoms. (8) Unfortunately, this strain does not appear to be commercially available in the US just yet. 
  • Bifidobacterium lactis HN019. This strain is available in Now Foods Clinical GI Probiotic and its use has been linked to improved improved GI symptoms in those with functional GI issues, including reflux. (9)

While there may not be much research on probiotics for acid reflux symptoms quite yet, I’m confident that we’ll see more research on this in the future. I’ll be sure to put any updates I see into this post! (And if you come across any studies you’d like to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments.)

But beyond their ability to affect reflux symptoms, probiotics may play another key role when it comes to this condition: preventing the dysbiosis that goes along with PPI use.

A very interesting study done on children in 2018 showed that only 6.2% of children who were given a probiotic (Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938) while taking a PPI developed dysbiosis, while 56.2% of those taking the PPIs alone (without a probiotic) developed dysbiosis. 

This means that even if you need to be on a PPI to manage your symptoms, taking a probiotic could help keep your gut bacteria balanced and healthy. 

If you’re interested in the specific strain they used in this study, it can be found in the Biogaia Gastrus probiotic supplement.

Deep Breathing for Acid Reflux

Beyond taking probiotics for reflux, there are a couple other ways you can help yourself manage this condition. Let’s discuss those.

Your gut and your brain are connected, which means they talk to each other constantly. This explains why uncontrolled anxiety, depression, and stress can lead to an increase in GERD symptoms. (10) Not dealing effectively with these conditions also makes it difficult for your body to heal and respond well to reflux treatment. 

One simple strategy that can calm your mind and also help improve your GERD symptoms over time is diaphragmatic breathing. (11)

To familiarize yourself with deep breathing, you can lay on the floor with a book on top of your belly. Breathe in deeply and you should see the book rise up from your stomach. What you’re trying to avoid is breathing from your chest. Now, simply lay there and continue breathing deeply for a few minutes. 

One of my favorite recommendations to clients is to incorporate a deep breathing practice at mealtime to help relax their body before it’s time to digest. To do this, they take 1-2 minutes before eating their food to sit down, relax, and breathe deeply. Bonus point for having your food in front of you so that you can smell it — this gets the digestive juices flowing.

I have found this practice to be incredibly effective for just about all my digestive health clients, but especially those who deal with reflux.

Melatonin for Acid Reflux

Melatonin may not be the first thing you think of when it comes home remedies for acid reflux. But your gut is responsible for producing more melatonin than your brain, which might explain why researchers have found melatonin for acid reflux to be helpful. (12)

In addition to helping you get a good night’s sleep, melatonin is thought to protect the gastric mucosa from free radical damage, influence secretion of stomach acid and certain digestion enzymes, and even have positive effects on anxiety and depression. (12)

A dose of 3-6 mg melatonin for at least 8 weeks has been proven effective for relieving acid reflux symptoms. Just make sure to take melatonin at bedtime to prevent daytime sleepiness, which was the only side effect seen in clinical trials. (12, 13) You can take a supplement like NOW Foods 3mg Melatonin.

The Bottom Line

If you are suffering from acid reflux, you are probably willing to try just about anything for some relief. But for many people, the key to resolving acid reflux for good lies in testing and correcting for potential gut dysbiosis and bacterial overgrowth. 

If you want to try a probiotic to ease some of your acid reflux symptoms, I would recommend NOW Foods Clinical GI Probiotic until other strains are better studied.

If you’re on a PPI, research shows that taking a probiotic like Biogaia Gastrus may help prevent the dysbiosis associated with taking these drugs.

Deep breathing and a melatonin supplement (like NOW Foods Melatonin) may also help relieve your reflux symptoms. 

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Prebiotics and Probiotics…What is a Prebiotic vs Probiotic?

prebiotics and probiotics

Despite sounding very similar, prebiotics and probiotics are quite different and play different roles in the gut microbiome. So what is a prebiotic vs probiotic?

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotic definition: “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.” (1)

This essentially means that the definition of a prebiotic fiber is anything that bacteria living in your gut (or elsewhere) can use to thrive. When these beneficial bacteria thrive, they help you, their host, thrive as well. Thus, prebiotics, by way of helping your good gut bacteria thrive, “confer a health benefit” to you.

Prebiotics provide health benefits by helping your healthy gut bacteria do what they’re supposed to do — produce beneficial compounds like short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), strengthen your gut integrity, and push out bad bacteria.

Prebiotics are most often non-digestible fibers, but more recent research shows that prebiotics can also be things like polyphenols (a type of antioxidant).

Types of Prebiotic Supplements

The most common prebiotic supplements you’ll find include:

  • Inulin
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
  • Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG)

That said, there are also many high prebiotic foods out there, too!

Prebiotic Foods

High prebiotic foods include:

  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Dandelion greens
  • Bananas (especially green bananas)
  • Asparagus
  • Apples
  • Cocoa
  • Flaxseeds
  • Burdock root
  • Yacon root
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Jicama root

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics definition: live microorganisms that confer a health benefit to the host. (2)

So what does this mean exactly? Well, it means that when you take probiotics, you’re consuming live bacteria or other organisms.

While that may sound a little strange, these little gut bugs are actually quite good for you! Part of the definition of a probiotic is that in order to be considered one, that bacteria must actually provide a benefit to you, their host.

That’s why harmful bacteria, like Salmonella, for example, are not considered probiotic. These bacteria cause harm instead of benefitting you. Probiotics, on the other hand, make you healthier!

You can consume probiotic supplements as well as probiotic foods to get these healthy bacteria into your body.

Probiotic Strains

When choosing a probiotic, it is very important to consider the specific strain you’re going to take. That’s because the probiotic strain dictates what kind of health benefits that probiotic might offer.

When looking at the probiotic strain level, you should see 3 different parts of the probiotic name.

Take a look at the image below to see the different parts of the probiotic name, including the probiotic strain.

probiotic strain

Because different strains of the same species may provide completely different benefits, it’s important to choose your strain carefully. This becomes especially important when you’re choosing a probiotic supplement — not all probiotic supplements tell you what strain they contain!

Probiotic Foods

Of course, you can also consume probiotics in the form of probiotic foods.

Probiotic foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Kvass
  • Pickles (make sure they’re fermented, not pickled in vinegar)
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Yogurt

You can ferment all sorts of veggies yourself, too! Learn how to ferment your own vegetables here.

Prebiotic vs Probiotic

Hopefully by now, you understand the differences between a prebiotic vs probiotic.

Remember, probiotics are live organisms.

Prebiotics are anything that helps those organisms already in your gut thrive.

Both prebiotics and probiotics must be proven to provide a benefit to you, though. If a certain strain or fiber hasn’t been studied or hasn’t been shown to actually provide a benefit, it is not a probiotic or prebiotic.

Provided that you’re taking prebiotics and probiotics that have been clinically-proven to be beneficial, taking both is a really great idea!

What is a Synbiotic?

Speaking of both prebiotics and probiotics…that’s a synbiotic!

Synbiotic definition: a combination of prebiotics and probiotics.

Synbiotics make supporting your gut health easy by including both prebiotics and probiotics in one food or supplement.

But you need to choose your synbiotic supplement carefully because some of them only contain very, very small amounts of prebiotics — not enough to really provide any health benefits.

If you’re trying to choose a prebiotic and probiotic supplement, make sure it contains grams of prebiotics, not milligrams. You need a big dose of prebiotics in order to get the health benefits from it in most cases, but most prebiotic and probiotic supplements only give you tiny doses of prebiotics.

This is essentially just “marketing spin” — they want to be able to claim that their product contains prebiotics, when in reality, that tiny amount of prebiotic isn’t providing any health benefits to you. Lame!

I got so frustrated with all of the prebiotic and probiotic supplements out there that I actually created my own synbiotic product called Gut Power Matcha. I like to think it’s the best prebiotic and probiotic product out there!

gut power matcha

In every serving of Gut Power Matcha, you get 6 grams of prebiotic fiber and 1 billion CFU probiotics. All that in a delicious cup of matcha green tea, too!

Gut Power Matcha is truly the easiest, tastiest way to support your gut health and get your prebiotics and probiotics!

Have you ordered yours yet?

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The Best Probiotic for BV: BV Treatment Over the Counter That Works

best probiotics for bv - bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) can be an incredibly frustrating condition to live with. More often than not, it’s something that women deal with for months or years, with little help from their doctors. Luckily, using probiotics for BV can make treating this condition much easier! In this article, I’ll go over exactly what bacterial vaginosis is, the typical BV treatment, how to address recurring BV, and how probiotics for bacterial vaginosis can help.

In doing research for this post, I came across so many stories from women all over the Internet and it really broke my heart to read them. Women who experienced extreme pain during sex, said they were embarrassed to have any sexual contact, were constantly thinking about how “fishy” they smelled, or worried if they would ever find someone who could love them. There were many women who told their stories of living with BV for years, and could not find a solution.

So this article is dedicated to you — I hope it helps you find relief.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that I receive compensation when you buy from these vendors. Please note that I vet each product and do not recommend products that I do not believe in. Thank you for supporting me!

What is BV (Bacterial Vaginosis)?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria (also referred to as dysbiosis) in the vagina. BV is thought to be a sexually-transmitted disease.

Normally, the majority of the bacteria in the vagina are from the Lactobacillus genus. When Lactobacilli are in high numbers, these bacteria keep the vaginal environment acidic by producing lactic acid, which helps to prevent “bad” bacteria from taking over.

BV is the most common cause of vaginal symptoms and it is believed that ~29% of women of childbearing age have bacterial vaginosis. The rates of BV differ between ethnicities, with Black women being at the highest risk (51%), followed by Mexican women (32%), and white women (23%). (1)

When you develop BV, there is a shift away from Lactobacillus bacteria toward a more diverse mix of bacteria. This imbalance of bacteria leads to an increase in the pH of the vagina, which can cause a number of symptoms.

Men cannot get bacterial vaginosis, though they may harbor some of the bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis) that is thought to play a role in the development of BV in women. (2)

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) Symptoms

Despite how common BV is, it does not always cause symptoms. In fact, 84% of women with BV do not exhibit any symptoms at all. (1)

That said, there are some tell-tale signs of BV. Symptoms of BV are often chronic and usually fairly mild. They include:

  • Thin, white or grey vaginal discharge
  • A strong fishy odor, especially after sex
  • Itching, burning, or pain in or around the vagina

Bacterial Vaginosis vs Yeast Infection

Despite the fact that yeast infections are talked about much more, they are the second most common cause of vaginal symptoms, beat out only by bacterial vaginosis.

So what’s the difference between the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection?

Common symptoms of a yeast infection include itchiness or burning in or around the vagina, and a white discharge that often looks like cottage cheese. This discharge is typically odorless and might have a yeasty smell (like beer or bread). (3)

This differs from the thin consistency and strong fishy odor of the discharge associated with bacterial vaginosis.

Of course, the best thing to do if you have any of these symptoms is to visit your healthcare provider who can perform an exam and testing to determine which of these infections you might have.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) Causes

While researchers aren’t quite sure exactly what causes BV, there are certain lifestyle factors that may make you more likely to get BV.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing BV include (4):

  • Sexual activity. Having a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners increases your risk of BV. Women who have not had sex rarely have BV.
  • Douching. Douching disrupts the balance of bacteria as well as the pH of the vagina, putting you at higher risk of BV.

Conventional BV Treatment

Some doctors do not recommend treatment of BV, especially if you have no symptoms. This is because the typical antibiotic treatment for BV can cause you to develop a yeast infection, essentially trading one infection for another. Many cases of BV also spontaneously resolve on their own.

However, treating BV makes you less likely to contract other STDs, including HIV. In addition, you are less likely to suffer from infections after gynecological surgery like an abortion or hysterectomy if you treat BV prior to surgery.

Lastly, if you are pregnant, having BV can increase the risk of having a preterm birth or a low birth-weight baby (<5.5 pounds at the time of birth). (4)

Most practitioners will choose to treat women who complain of symptoms of BV, women with BV who are about to undergo gynecological surgery, or pregnant women with BV, especially if you’ve had a preterm birth in the past.

Typical treatment for BV is a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics for BV include metronidazole (oral or vaginal), clindamycin (oral or vaginal), tinidazole (oral), or secnidazole (oral).

Recurring BV

Many women have recurring BV infections and find pharmaceutical antimicrobial treatment ineffective over the long-term. In addition to this, the side effects of antibiotics (such as yeast infections) can often make antibiotics seem not worth it.

If rings a bell, you might want to know how to stop recurring BV infections permanently or how to get rid of BV without antibiotics.

One thing to note here is that researchers believe that treating the sexual partners of those with BV may reduce recurrence rates. Early research in the field showed that this was not effective, but it was later discovered that this early research was not up to snuff. Researchers are now diving deeper into this topic and will hopefully have a definitive answer for us soon as to whether or not treatment of sexual partners can help reduce the recurrence of BV. (2)

In the meantime, there are numerous BV over-the-counter treatments as well as home remedies for BV that can make treatment a success and decrease the likelihood of a recurrent infection. One of my favorite options is probiotics!

Let’s jump into it.

Best Probiotic for BV

probiotics for bv - probiotic supplements

Because bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in the vagina, taking probiotics orally or inserting probiotic bacteria vaginally can be useful in treating BV.

Taken orally, probiotic bacteria can actually help rebalance the vaginal flora. (5)

If you are interested in inserting probiotics vaginally for BV, make sure to discuss this option with your healthcare provider.

Below are some of the best probiotics for bacterial vaginosis.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 for BV

One of the most studied combinations of probiotic strains for BV is Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14. (Remember that knowing the strain of the probiotics you’re taking is incredibly important — you can’t just take any probiotic!)

Study 1

In a study of 32 women with BV, half the women were given metronidazole and a combination of these two probiotic strains, while the other half were given metronidazole and a placebo. They received the antibiotics for the first 7 days of the study. As for the probiotics, they took two capsules (each capsule containing at least one million bacilli per strain) for the first 30 days, and then 1 capsule per day for the remaining 30 days of the study.

For those in the probiotic group, 81% (13 women) had cured their BV by day 30. They remained BV-free until the end of the study at 60 days, as well.

This is in contrast to the placebo group (remember, they still got the conventional treatment — 7 days of metronidazole). In this group, only 31% (5 women) were free of BV by the end of the study and almost 70% of the women who only received metronidazole treatment still had BV. (6)

Study 2

In another study (double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized) on these two strains, women who had received these probiotics in addition to conventional metronidazole treatment for BV were cured at a much higher rate than those who only received metronidazole treatment.

125 women were split into two groups, and of those on the combination of probiotics and metronidazole, 88% were cured at the 30-day follow up. Only 40% of women who received metronidazole treatment alone were cured. (7)

Study 3

Another very similar study in 2017 showed, again, that women who took these probiotic strains in addition to metronidazole antibiotic treatment were much more likely to cure their BV. 83% of those who took the combination of probiotics and antibiotics for BV had cured their BV by the end of the 30-day study, while only 37% of women who only received antibiotics had cleared their BV by the end of the study. (8)

You may have also heard milk-based drinks with Lactobacillus cultures like Yakult for BV, or Actimel for BV. They do not contain the same strains of Lactobacillus as mentioned above, and thus may not be as effective for BV. That said, I’m always open to seeing more research so if you want to share any, please do so in the comments section!

Best Probiotic for BV that Includes Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14

Clearly, these two probiotics strains have some promising results for those with BV. If you’re looking for a BV treatment over the counter to help improve the efficacy of your medical treatment, probiotics are a wonderful choice. It’s an easy remedy that you can administer at home!

Fem-Dophilus from Jarrow Formulas is a great option if you’re looking for a probiotic supplement that contains these two strains.

You can also find these same strains in RepHresh Pro B probiotic capsules.

Ideally, I would love these companies to share the exact CFU counts for each individual strain, but none of them do (opting to list it as a “proprietary blend” instead). Both of these options contain 5 billion total CFUs, but they don’t specify how much of those 5 billion is coming from each of the strains. If you know of a brand that tells you how much of each strain their supplement contains, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Other BV Treatments Over the Counter & Home Remedies for BV

In addition to probiotics for BV, there are some other over the counter treatments for BV that you might want to consider.

Garlic for BV

In a study of 120 women with BV, 60 women were given 500 mg capsules of garlic and 60 women were given the standard treatment of metronidazole. 63% of women who received the garlic were successful in their treatment, while 48% were successful in the metronidazole group. (9)

This shows that garlic may be a better treatment for BV than antibiotics. Perhaps combined with the probiotics listed above, we’d see even higher rates of clearance!

If you’re looking for a quality garlic supplement, Allimax is a good choice.

Boric Acid Suppositories for BV

Boric acid suppositories have long been used for vaginal infections, including BV and yeast infections. It is regarded as a simple, safe home remedy for vaginal infections. It is thought that boric acid may affect the biofilms of BV-causing bacterial. (2)

One study showed that treatment with nitroimidazole followed by 21 days of intravaginal boric acid suppositories (600 mg) and then, if in remission, metronidazole gel twice weekly for 16 weeks. BV cure rates at 12, 16, 28, and 36 weeks were 87%, 78%, 65%, and 50%, respectively. (10)

Though the BV cure was not permanent for 50% of women in the trial, this study indicates that boric acid (along with other maintenance therapies), may be useful in delaying recurrence of BV. More studies are needed to determine if ongoing use of boric acid may be helpful for BV prevention, especially for those with recurring BV.

Please note: Oral use of boric acid is toxic — vaginal use only. Pregnant women should not use boric acid.

You can purchase boric acid suppositories online quite easily.

Other home remedies for BV that are less studied include: herbal suppositories (such as this one from Dr. Aviva Romm), tea tree oil for BV, and hydrogen peroxide for BV.

If you are considering any BV treatment over the counter or home remedies for BV, talk to your doctor.

The Bottom Line:

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection and affects almost 1 in 3 women. It causes symptoms such as thin, white or grey discharge with a strong fishy odor, and can cause itchiness or pain in or around the vagina.

Probiotics can be a great way to improve your chances of clearing BV. The best probiotic for BV are products that include both Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 strains. These can be found in both the Fem-Dophilus from Jarrow Formulas and RepHresh Pro B probiotic supplements. Taken orally, these probiotics can help rebalance the bacteria and lower the pH of the vagina and may help prevent and treat BV.

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Got Anxiety? Here’s How Your Gut Microbiome Plays a Part

Got Anxiety Here's How Your Gut Microbiome Plays a Part

Learn about the connection between gut health and anxiety and how you can improve your anxiety by improving your gut health.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness affecting those living in the United States with about 40 million sufferers. (1) If you deal with this condition, you know that anxiety can be debilitating and affect your quality of life. But did you also know that the trillions of microbes living in your gut can play a part in your condition and potentially help you heal? That’s right, there is a connection between your gut health and anxiety.

The Gut-Brain Connection: How Gut Health and Anxiety Connect

These microbes living in us are often referred to as the “forgotten organ” because they play such a large role in our well-being, but it is only recently that we’ve started to realize the impact this organ has on the body. (2) Unfortunately, the Western lifestyle takes a significant toll on the health of our microbiome with constant stress, unhealthy diets, lack of sleep, and more leading to a condition called dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis, the imbalance of gut bacteria, has been associated with a variety of mental disorders including anxiety. (3) While there aren’t many studies done on humans, we have seen mice exhibit increased anxious behavior when exposed to pathogenic bacteria in the gut. (4) It’s probably no surprise, then, that those with anxiety are also likely to suffer from a digestive disorder associated with imbalanced gut bacterial as well like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

I recommend that you test your microbiome for dysbiosis and pathogens by using a functional medicine lab – your healthcare practitioner can then interpret this information for you and prescribe the correct treatment depending on what is going on in your gut. This is the #1 step anyone with anxiety should take! You don’t want unwanted pathogens hanging around wreaking havoc on your gut health (and in turn your mental health!). Directlabs.com offers a number of stool tests that you can order yourself – I have tests from both Metametrix and Doctor’s Data (two of my favorites) listed in my portal here.

Best Probiotics for Anxiety

When humans are given specific strains of probiotics, their anxiety improves as does their HPA axis function. (5) The strains of probiotics used in this study (Bifidobacterium longum R0175 and Lactobacillus helveticus R0052) can be found in two products in the United States: Pure Encapsulations’ ProbioMood (which you can purchase in my supplement dispensary) and Xymogen’s Probio Defense.

Prebiotics for Anxiety

Prebiotics, which feed healthy gut bacteria, are also useful for anxiety. Stress-related disorders seem to respond to the prebiotic GOS (galactooligosaccharide) in particular, which help the HPA axis to function appropriately in addition to making us pay more attention to positive stimuli vs negative stimuli. (6) My go-to GOS prebiotic is Galactomune from Klaire Labs, which you can purchase in my dispensary.

Best Diet for Anxiety

Eating a healthy, ancestral diet is also associated with lower anxiety scores, while Westernized diets are associated with the opposite effect. (7) This is thought to be due to many factors including inflammation, but also to the effects of these diets on the microbiome. Another reason to keep up your healthy diet!

The Gut-Brain Connection

The microbiome and the brain operate on a bi-directional axis, meaning that the gut affects the brain and vice versa. Because of this, anxiety and gut problems can be a vicious cycle where anxiety  makes you more likely to develop dysbiosis (the imbalance of gut bacteria) and dysbiosis makes you more likely to suffer from anxiety. But dealing with both conditions simultaneously (i.e. treating dysbiosis and reducing stress to the degree you can) can help alleviate both problems. To learn more about stress and its impact on the gut, check out my article on the topic here.

While anxiety can be a difficult diagnosis to deal with, there is more and more research coming out every day about the relationship between anxiety and the microbiome. If you suffer from anxiety, your treatment plan should definitely address any problems in the gut!

Gut Health and Anxiety: How to Improve Anxiety by Improving Your Gut

To recap, those with anxiety should focus on:

  • Reducing stress as much as possible by incorporating mind-body activities like meditation, yoga, etc
  • Testing and treating for dysbiosis with a trusted practitioner (I can help!)
  • Adding probiotics to their routine, in particular the Bifidobacterium longum R0175 and Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 strains  which can be found in the probiotic supplements ProbioMood and Probio Defense.
  • Adding prebiotics, especially GOS, which has shown to have a positive impact on the HPA axis and anxiety. Try Galactomune to get more GOS in your diet.
  • Eating a healthy, ancestral diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, etc. (e.g. a Paleo diet!)

Now I want to hear from you: what have you done to combat your anxiety? Are you focusing on the gut?