Certain intestinal microbes, or bacteria, also called good bacteria, are necessary for healthy intestinal flora. They aid in the digestion of food, allowing it to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and protect your body from foreign pathogens infecting it.
There are around 10 trillion of these little living microbes in our intestines. Since 80% of our immune system functions take place in our guts, most of our immunity comes from the work of the bacteria that live in our intestines.
The main job they have is breaking down the food we eat for digestion. As they are doing this, they also break down any sort of bad bacteria, germs, or fungi that was on the food, which is bound to be present every now and then. This is why it is so important to keep a good balance in our bodies of more good bacteria than bad. In order to do this, we need to feed the good bacteria to keep them strong.
How Can Probiotics Impact Your Immune System?
This is where probiotics come in to play. Any food that contains healthy living bacteria within it is classified as a probiotic. Some examples of these include yogurt, which has lactobacillus bacteria, and raw fermented and cultured food items, such as Kefir, Kimchi, Pickles, or Sauerkraut, to name just a few.
Probiotic bacteria are very similar to the bacteria inside of us, which means every time we consume them, either through supplements or foods, we’re taking in more beneficial bacteria to outweigh the bad. This equips your body with the power to better fight off diseases and infections.
There are numerous ways in which probiotics work to boost your immune system’s overall health and functioning. Part of how these tiny organisms do this is by protecting your intestinal lining and improving your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. In addition, they create something that is called a “bioreactor”. A bioreactor assists your body in its production of key nutrients, including short-chain fatty acids, vitamins B and K, and Folate.
Probiotics form bacteriocins, which is a kind of proteinaceous toxin that serves to inhibit the growth and spreading of harmful bacteria. When our immune system is being attacked by foreign invaders, the lymph nodes in the intestine will become inflamed to fight them off.
However, when this inflammation occurs when there is no real threat, it can cause allergies, the flu, and even infections. Probiotics help protect against the illnesses that can result from this unneeded inflammation.
In the gut, epithelial tissues form a protective barrier inside of the intestines against pathogenic microbes and other harmful invaders. The strength of this epithelial tissue relies heavily on a healthy balance of gut flora, in order to regenerate itself.
Probiotics initiate epithelial homeostasis in the form of keeping epithelial cells alive and strengthening the cell barrier function, thereby giving the epithelial cells the tools they need to use their protective power. This modulating effect that probiotics have on the immune system creates higher immunity to diseases and other nasties.
We know that many types of intestinal flora are positive and crucial to our health, however, they do come with a catch 22. The byproducts of their growth are metabolic organic acids that include lactic acids and acetic acids. These acids can sometimes lower the body’s intestinal pH levels.
This then develops an unbalanced environment for bad bacteria to thrive in. Probiotics produce antibacterial peptides, which have the ability to eliminate harmful gut bacteria.
Various studies have corroborated these findings of probiotics being a boost for the immune system, capable of fighting off microbial infections in both humans and animals. In one study, a group of healthy mice and mice that were suffering from pneumonia were given probiotics.
The infected mice showed increased survival rates after receiving the probiotics. In another randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel, double-blind study, healthy individuals that were given certain probiotics for 12 weeks showed that their risk of contracting the common cold was lowered.
A study in New Zealand on 30 professional rugby players showed an enhanced ability of their immune systems in fighting off colds. Some of the players received 3 billion CFU’s of a probiotic supplement a day, while the others were given a placebo every day for four weeks.
80% of the placebo group felt they had acquired the cold or stomach issues during this four week period, while only 53% of the group who actually took probiotics experienced a cold or another health issue. For the placebo group, the colds lasted 5.8 days, and for the probiotic group, it lasted 3.4 days.
There are two kinds of bacteria found in probiotics that are the most beneficial for your immune system function. These include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, which are just two classes, or “generas” of bacteria that have many species. 500 of these species are floating around in our colons, with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum being the most abundant.
What are the Benefits of Probiotics for Anxiety?
It only makes sense that the healthier you are in your body, the healthier your mind will be, and vise versa. Recently, scientists have proven that if there is an imbalance happening in the gut, there will inevitably be an imbalance in the brain. There is even a term for it; The gut-brain axis.
The intestinal tract has its own separate nervous system that produces some of the same neurotransmitters as the brain, including acetylcholine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters enable motility or movement and productivity in the gut. It is also thought that the brain and the gut communicate with one another to achieve bodily processes.
This may be why anxiety or depression can cause abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal problems, or the other way around, with chronic gastrointestinal issues leading to anxiety or depression.
Anxiety, especially severe anxiety can cause a drastic weakening in your immune system function. When you experience anxiety, your body releases the stress hormone known as cortisol throughout your body. This happens whether you have mild or severe anxiety. Cortisol, in times of high anxiety, and therefore stress attempts to reduce inflammation.
It does this by weakening the antibodies that can increase inflammation. This renders your body unable to use its natural immunity to fight off germs and harmful bacteria, and ward off diseases that it would otherwise know how to prevent.
Although cortisol can be helpful in small amounts, being endlessly anxious, and always releasing it means it will continue to suppress the white blood cells and T-cells your body needs to have a strong immune system.
This will not cause immediate illness, but when you encounter germs and dangerous bacteria, your weakened immune system will not be able to protect you against them, and it will make it that much harder to recover from the illness you come down with.
This anxiety-immune system relationship is two-fold. People that have allergies tend to be more prone to having anxiety, which of course leads to a weaker immune system, and then even more allergies. It can become a relentless cycle that can eventually lead to the onset of a serious illness. Taking or introducing probiotics for anxiety purposes in your diet can help in ending this cycle.
Multiple animals and human studies have found that the intake of probiotic supplements or fermented foods with probiotics can help improve some mental health disorders. The probiotic bacteria species Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been studied in 15 or more different human studies.
What these studies found was that the people supplementing with these two kinds of probiotic microorganisms for one to two months saw improvements in their anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and memories.
The particular strains Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 were found to have the strongest positive effects on mood. A probiotic supplement, called Florassist Mood, that contains both of these two strains, has been studied in a number of human tests.
It was shown to relieve symptoms of anxiety and poor mood, as well as decrease the stress hormone cortisol levels in the body. One of the studies resulted in a more than 50% decrease in rates of sadness and a 55% rate of improvement for those afflicted with anxiety.
Another six-week study of 70 workers in the chemical field involved some of the workers consuming 100 grams of probiotic yogurt per day or taking one probiotic capsule supplement every day. Each worker that consumed either form of probiotics experienced improvements in their overall health, anxiety, depression, and stress. A similar separate study of 40 clinically depressed patients concluded the same beneficial outcomes from probiotics.
While they are not the end all be all solution to any mental health issue, incorporating probiotics for anxiety has had promising results for a lot of people. They provide a healthier, safer, and tastier alternative to prescription drugs that are used to mask the symptoms of anxiety and other neuropsychiatric disorders, but not actually cure the root cause.
With the good bacteria from probiotics, you’re getting a stronger immune system, which leads to a healthier, stronger mind, which then leads to an even stronger immune system. Either way, you can’t lose.