Depression: Probiotics could lessen sad mood and ‘aggressive thoughts’ – study

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A team of researchers from the institute for psychological research at Leiden University, The Netherlands, tested the effects of probiotics on “cognitive reactivity”. “Heightened cognitive reactivity to normal, transient changes in sad mood is an established marker of vulnerability to depression,” the authors noted. Thus, dampening heightened cognitive reactivity is considered an “important target for interventions”.

For the study, the probiotics tested on non-depressed individuals were:

  • Bifidobacterium bifidum W23
  • Bifidobacterium lactis W52
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus W37
  • Lactobacillus brevis W63
  • Lactobacillus casei W56
  • Lactobacillus salivarius W24
  • Lactococcus lactis (W19 and W58).

The experiment involved 20 healthy participants who had not been diagnosed with a mood disorder.

They received a four-week probiotic food supplementation intervention with the multi-species probiotics.

Meanwhile, 20 “control participants” received an inert placebo for the same amount of time.

In the pre- and post-intervention assessment, cognitive reactivity to sad mood was assessed using the revised Leiden index of depression sensitivity scale.

Compared to participants who received the placebo intervention, those who consumed the probiotics showed a “significant” reduction in cognitive reactivity to sad mood.

The participants who consumed placebos had a reduction in rumination and “aggressive thoughts”.

The authors concluded that this evidence shows that “the intake of probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts associated with sad mood”.

“Probiotics supplementation warrants further research as a potential preventive strategy for depression,” the authors added.

How depression differs from feeling sad

Mental health charity HeretoHelp pointed out that sadness is a “normal reaction” to a loss, disappointment, or difficult situations.

Feeling sad from time to time is “part of being human”, but the feelings of sadness tend to dissipate, enabling you to carry on with your daily life.

Depression, on the other hand, is a mood disorder that can last for a very long time.

“It’s much more than sadness or low mood,” the charity stated. “People who experience depression may feel worthless or hopeless.”

For some people, depression may be experienced as anger or irritability, an inability to concentrate or make decisions, or losing interest in things they once enjoyed.

“Depression lasts longer than two weeks, doesn’t usually go away on its own, and impacts your life,” HelptoHand stated.


The NHS stated: “It’s important to seek help from a GP if you think you may be depressed.”

Symptoms of depression

  • Continuous low mood or sadness
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling tearful
  • Feeling guilt-ridden
  • Feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • Having no motivation or interest in things
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions
  • Not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.
  • Depression can lead to physical symptoms too, such as:
  • Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • Changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
  • Constipation
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Lack of energy
  • Low sex drive (loss of libido)
  • Changes to your menstrual cycle
  • Disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning.

Social symptoms might include:

  • Avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
  • Neglecting your hobbies and interests
  • Having difficulties in your home, work or family life.

Find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline here.

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