If you read that headline and are already rolling your eyes, we don’t blame you. After all, miracle food trends are about common as rush hour traffic, and many of them just as frustrating. Nonetheless, serious research supports the notion that diet is intimately linked to mental health and probiotics, in particular, play a powerful role. If this is news to you, don’t worry; after all, many folks do not even know what probiotics are, and fewer still are familiar with the benefits their offer.

Probiotics are live microorganisms which occur naturally in your digestive track—among other places—and promote digestive health. Outside of your guts, they also occur in many everyday foods. A growing community of researchers believe probiotic bacteria play a crucial role in what is referred to as the are gut-brain axis (GBA), a vector which links the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, to the gastrointestinal tract. As a key player in this bodily system, probiotics may assist in the following:

  • The production of neurotransmitters that can affect appetite, mood, or sleep habits.
  • The reduction of inflammation, itself understood as contributing to depression.
  • The regulation of cognitive function and the bodily response to stress.

While it is unclear how, exactly, probiotics carry out these functions, you can confidently introduce them into your diet as they occur in commonly consumed foods that, themselves, present no risk. Probiotic rich—and delicious—food items include:

  • Yogurt
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Tofu
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles (not the vinegar kind)
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi

And many other naturally-fermented products!

Despite many of the above playing a central role in diets around the world, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or living with a chronic health condition. Further, do not mistake probiotics as a replacement for your current mental health treatment plan. If you a looking for alternative to antidepressant medication, first speak to a physician and design a plan to slowly ween yourself off of your current regimen. This said, if you are simply looking for straightforward ways to bolster your wellbeing, dig in!