Americans are more depressed and stressed than ever—probiotics may provide support.

We’re in a bad mood, and it’s not getting better. About 44% of American surveyed said they feel more stressed out now than they did five years ago. Nearly 40 million of us suffer from anxiety disorders. Almost 15 million citizens in this country are under the raincloud of a major depressive disorder.

Possibly more alarming: our children aren’t immune from feeling down. Research shows about one in 33 kids, and one in 8 teens, is in the throes of depression. Our wee ones’ stress causes problems beyond tears and tantrums—it leads to lack of sleep, chronic headaches, tummy troubles, and more.

Americans believe firmly in the pursuit of happiness. How can we get out from under this dark cloud and brighten our mood?

Chemical Imbalance

With chronic depression and mood disorder diagnoses climbing, more people than ever are turning to pharmaceutical solutions. From 1999 to 2012, the percentage of US residents taking antidepressants nearly doubled. However, chemical treatment of these problems may come at a price. Possible side effects include nausea, weight gain, decreased sexual dysfunction and, somewhat ironically, mood issues like agitation, irritability, and anxiety. Antianxiety drugs also have potential drawbacks, such as nausea, nightmares, confusion and fatigue.

Sometimes people seek solutions to ease the pain on our own. In the face of extreme sadness, anxiety, or other mood issues, they frequently reach for alcohol and illegal drugs to lift themselves up. Like prescription drugs, self-medication may come with its own terrible troubles—worsened mood, permanent brain damage, and the threat of jail among them—more likely to make matters worse than improve them.

The Power Inside Us

Research into depression and mood disorders increasingly suggests how we feel is closely tied to our microbiome—the millions of unique microorganisms in our inner workings that help keep us healthy. Scientists are just beginning to understand how our gut balance impacts our overall health, but they know the impact likely is huge, considering the sheer number of beneficial bugs inside us. “We are, at least from the standpoint of DNA, more microbial than human,” says Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

There are a number of substances that scientists understand contribute to feelings of happiness, such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. However, while these mood-elevating materials float around our brain to help our moods feel brighter, it’s not our brain that gives us much of these substances. Studies show an estimated 50% of dopamine, and the vast majority of our serotonin, originate in our intestine. They have known for a while that the chemicals regulate appetite, digestion, and feelings of fullness down there, but now they are taking a much closer look at the gut’s role in contributing regulating our overall mood.

What’s more, researchers have discovered a possible link between an imbalance in our microbiomes and depression diagnoses. A recent study showed a whopping 35% of depression patients showed signs of leaky gut. Scientists theorized the displaced bacteria can activate autoimmune responses and inflammation, which in turn can trigger depression, depleted mood, and fatigue.

Doing What Comes Naturally

If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, there are numerous mood-brightening recipes that feature natural ingredients. Stroll to your neighborhood market and load up your basket with sweet potatoes, nuts, eggs, yogurt (choose low-sugar varieties), oily fishes, dark chocolate, beans and lentils, and other wholesome foods that could comfort you. Relax with a soothing mug of green tea. Also, make sure you get at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water swimming through your system each day.

In addition to putting good stuff inside, you may be able to lift your spirits with outside elements. Keeping physically active may help, so try getting in a healthy workout, taking a walk, going for a jog or dancing the night away. Getting plenty of natural light, and spending time indoors under the right lighting for whatever you’re up to, also can keep your mood high. If you have cats, dogs or other companion animals, spend some time cuddling and playing with your pets and you might find yourself feeling better.

Probiotics and Mood

We’ve already discussed how gut health and mood are likely intertwined. Research shows that adding probiotics to the mix might help improve gut balance and, in turn, improve our mood. An Irish researcher studying depression in lab rats found many of the little critters perked right up after being given probiotics.

But it’s not just rodents who researchers believe experience the benefits of probiotics—it’s humans, too. A UCLA study indicates women consuming beneficial bacteria showed signs of elevated brain function and mood. While scientists cannot yet say with certainty what causes this mood-microbiome tie, they believe the role that gut-health balance plays in supporting a healthy immune system and response may be related to mood and behavior.

Stand-out Strains

In research seeking the probiotics with the most mood-lifting potential, certain strains stand out. Probiotics shown to impact our moods and brain function have been called “psychobiotics.” Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two found to brighten mood; both are boosted by consuming dark chocolate. L. casei (in many fermented foods) has been found to lessen anxiety and depression. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, one of the most-studied strains, has been found to reduce anxiety in tests; it also alleviates several digestive issues, which themselves impact mood.

LoveBug Probiotics has engineered a range of probiotics that can boost mood while tackling a number of specialized needs. Each of these features BIO-tract© technology to ensure the microorganisms in the supplements reach the gut to do as much good as possible. Colds Suck diminishes the power and duration of colds, with added minerals for an extra lift; Here’s the Skinny elevates weight-loss efforts by introducing good gut bacteria, improving digestion; and Yeast is a Beast fights yeast infections and urinary tract issues. There are also two child-centric supplements—Tiny Tummies for kids 6 months to 4 years, and Little Ones for children 4 and up—to promote healthier kids and, in turn, happier parents.

*The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The contents of this website are not medical advice and are intended for general knowledge and informational purposes only. Consult with a health care professional before using products based on this content.

*BIO-tract© is a registered trademark of Nutraceutix.