Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

Mental health issues are now thought to affect one in six people in the UK, and to cost the economy a staggering £105 billion per year1. In order to raise public awareness of this growing problem and to help de-stigmatise mental health issues, the ‘Mental Health Foundation’ designate one week each year in May as ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. This year the theme for the awareness week is anxiety, and between 12-18th May there will be many local events taking place throughout the UK to highlight the effects of this condition on sufferers and their families.

Woman breathing in soft light

So, with mental health at the forefront of our thoughts this week, we thought it timely to take a look at ‘psychobiotics’. What does this newly conceived term actually mean? And, does it represent a significant scientific breakthrough, or is it simply a ‘re-naming’ of existing knowledge?

According to the 'Society of Biological Psychiatry' the term ‘psychobiotics’ is defined as a ‘live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness’. It is thought that these probiotic bacteria species exert their beneficial effects on mental health and mood via a number of different pathways. According to Professor Selhub and colleagues2 at Harvard Medical School, psychobiotics:

  • Directly produce neurochemicals, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which modulate our mood
  • Indirectly influence neurotransmitter and neuropeptide production
  • Activate neural pathways between the gut and brain
  • Limit the production of inflammatory cytokines (cell signaling molecules), reducing systemic (and therefore brain) inflammation
  • Improve general nutritional status
  • Reduce toxic burden via the reduction of pathogenic bacteria in the intestines

So, unlike most allopathic medical treatments, these beneficial bacteria strains have many different ‘modes of action’, rather than just one. They impact our mood and mental well-being in a number of different ways, giving them huge potential as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of mental health disorders.

OptiBac range probiotics
Could probiotic supplements help to support mental wellbeing?

New evidence is emerging all the time to back up the claims that ‘psychobiotics’ may represent a significant breakthrough in the field of nutritional-psychiatry. Update: a recent study has linked specific probiotic strains to anxiety. Health professionals can read more about this study into probiotics for social anxiety in Probiotic Professionals.

X-ray image inside head

So, whether ‘Psychobiotics’ are a new scientific phenomena, or just a sexy new name for probiotics, and more specifically the influence they exert on the ‘gut-brain axis’ , shall be left to debate, but either way, the fact that they are now such a hot topic, can only be a good thing for future research and development. We think that the science behind ‘psychobiotics’ is here to stay. Whether the new name will stick remains to be seen, but we are excited about the increasing focus on the role of probiotics in supporting those with mental health disorders.

We are always excited by new research in to the role of the microbiome, and the myriad of ways that it impacts our health. If you are new to this fascinating field and would like to read more, read our informative blog all about probiotics. We are so passionate about probiotics, that we dedicate all of our time and energy to them. Probiotics is all we do! Stay tuned for more research into this fascinating subject area.

For more related reading, healthcare practitioners can see the following in Probiotic Professionals:

Probiotics can help with depression, says new study


  1. Health and Social Care Information Centre - hscic
  2. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient pratcice meets nutritional psychiatry' Eva M. Selhub. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 2014.
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