The Psychobiotic Diet: What is it, The Benefits, and How To Get Started

psychobiotic diet 101

Psycho-what? If you had to take a second glance at ‘psychobiotic’, you aren’t the only one. While it may sound like a new music festival or psychedelic, psychobiotic is a term used to describe an eating pattern that is highly based on how food affects your gut health and how your gut health affects your mental state. Numerous studies have confirmed that your gut microbes (bacteria in your digestive tract) plays a significant role in how you feel mentally. It’s a biological phenomenon known as the gut-brain axis and it is changing the way people are viewing their diets. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to understand and implement a psychobiotic diet that benefits your mental health just as much as it does your physical health.  

What is a Psychobiotics Diet?

The easiest way to describe a psychobiotic diet is a healthy diet rich in probiotics that have a positive impact on one’s mental health. It’s highly based on scientific research that has made a direct link between gut health and one’s mental state. In fact, research has found that certain probiotics can result in significant changes in brain activity that produce a plethora of mental health benefits, such as making a person less likely to develop a low mood. Imagine that – being able to eat your way out of a depressive episode or to improve your overall mental health and wellness.

The term ‘psychobiotics’ was originally coined in 2013 by scientists in Ireland. It has since been expanded to encapsulate some prebiotics, which are plant fibers that feed healthy bacteria (probiotics) in the gut to maximize their potential. As mentioned previously, it’s highly based on the interaction known as the gut-brain axis. In order to understand how it works, you must first understand probiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria and/or yeast that lives in your body and that are good for you, especially for your digestive health. They’re found in many foods, such as kombucha, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, sourdough bread, miso, tempeh and some cheeses and can withstand your stomach acid and bile to enter your small intestine and colon.

 The Pyschobiotic Food Pyramid

We’ve all seen the nutritional pyramid commonly taught in school that breaks down the different types of foods you should have and how much you should eat to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. The psychobiotic food pyramid takes on a similar approach, only it focuses on foods that promote a healthy gut and in turn, a healthy mind.

Layer One: The base layer is made up largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, spices and herbs. This is what should make up the majority of your diet.  

Layer Two: The next layer of foods you’ll want to get into your diet often, such as fish, seafood and fermented foods.

Layer Three: This layer is where you’ll find eggs, dairy and poultry, which should be consumed weekly.

Layer Four: The next layer makes up the tiniest part of the food pyramid and consists of red meat and sweets. These are items you should consume rarely, if at all.

As you can see from these layers, probiotic-rich and high-fiber foods are what is most recommended for a healthy gut and optimal mental health, followed by omega-3 fatty acids and fermented foods. Probiotic supplements can also be used but it’s best to get your probiotics from the whole foods mentioned.

Now, it’s easy to look at this pyramid and get intimidated by the first two layers. However, decreasing the amount of food consumed from layer three and four is more important than increasing the foods in layers one and two. Of course, if you can do all of it at once – great. Otherwise, making some gradually adjustments to your diet that focus on eliminating the unhealthy foods first is the way to go. Eventually, you’ll be left with a Mediterranean diet that helps you maximize the mood-boosting bacteria in your gut.

Benefits of a Pyschobiotic Diet

The psychobiotic diet produces an abundance of benefits that start in your gut and extend into your mental health. Research suggests that the gut microbiome develops alongside your central nervous system, which explains why the two are so interconnected.

Reduce Stress and Stress-Related Conditions

Eating a psychobiotic diet can change the way you perceive stress and reduce the production of your stress hormone (cortisol) to lower stress and even ease related conditions, such as anxiety. This means that even when you are under stress, your feelings are much more positive about the stress you’re currently experiencing, which directly impacts how you feel on the grand scheme of things. It makes it easier for you to handle stressful situations in the healthiest way possible. Additionally, since a psychobiotic diet slows down the production of cortisol hormones, you end up experiencing less stress as a whole. This can directly improve other stress-related conditions, such as anxiety and panic disorder.  

Better Sleep Quality

Sleep quality is one of the utmost important parts of maintaining overall health and wellness, and eating a psychobiotic diet can help. Research has found that the gut is responsible for producing serotonin, which is the precursor for the melatonin hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles (circadian rhythm). Without sufficient amounts of serotonin and melatonin, sleep can become a struggle and impaired sleep patterns can develop. So, by eating probiotic foods that increase the production of these hormones, you can eradicate a vast array of sleep issues and improve your sleep quality. 

Additionally, the microbiome in the gut plays a role in the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid, which promotes relaxation and aids with sleep.

Put all of this together and eating a psychobiotic diet ensures your body is producing enough of the crucial neurotransmitters needed for optimal sleep. 

Improve Mental Health Conditions

Several neurotransmitters related to your mood are made in the gut, such as dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, gaba and noradrenaline. So, by improving your gut flora by eating a psychobiotic diet, you can improve a variety of mental illnesses, such as depression, OCD and anxiety.

Enhance Cognitive Functioning

An unhealthy gut flora can lead to physiological problems such as obesity and IBS and it can also have a negative impact on brain function, cognition, and behavior. Using probiotics that help improve the gut flora and keep it in balance can also encourage healthy brain function and reduce symptoms of cognitive decline.

Balance Hormones

Hormonal imbalances have been linked to everything from fatigue and constipation to tingling in the body, rapid heartbeats, depression and anxiety. They have an enormous influence on almost every aspect of human function, including your growth and development, reproduction, metabolism, sleep, and mood. All of these things can also directly impact your mental health. So, by improving the gut (and the nutrients, toxins and antigens within it), you can start to balance out your hormones and all of the things associated with them.

Boost Your Immune System

A strong immune system starts in the gut, as this is where the majority of immune cells in the body are found. Having a healthy gut flora helps suppress the growth of unhealthy or “bad” bacteria, which reduces the risk of infection and gives you an extra boost in your immune functioning. This plays a huge part in your mental health, as being sick all of the things can quickly take a toll on your mood.

Decrease Inflammation

Inflammation has been linked to creating a vast array of physical and mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.  Eating a probiotic-rich diet can help tackle inflammation, thus benefiting your brain and overall mental health and wellness.

Types of Probiotics

So what are the powerful probiotics you’ll want to get into your diet? Well, following the psychobiotic pyramid mentioned above is an excellent and easy way to get all of the brain-benefiting probiotics into your system. However, if you’re looking at harnessing the benefits of specific probiotics, these are the ones you’ll want to focus on:

The diet you follow can potentially prevent and even cure all of your mental health symptoms and concerns, making it an excellent and natural treatment option for anyone who relies heavily on antidepressants and other medications. But you don’t need to be on medication or have a mental health diagnosis to experience the powerful effects of adding more probiotics foods into your diet. From better sleep to being more resilient, the psychobiotic diet makes it easy to keep your mental health in check.

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