Microbiome Briefing

The role microbiota-gut-brain axis plays in stress management

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

The US is the leading market for probiotic products making stress or anxiety-related claims
The US is the leading market for probiotic products making stress or anxiety-related claims

Related tags Probiotics stress management Sleep Dietary supplements

The rise of dietary supplements to help manage stress was one of the big success stories from the pandemic years. While much of this success was linked to products containing adaptogenic herbs (we’re looking at you, Ashwagandha), the past couple of years has seen a surge in probiotics with stress management/ anti-anxiety positioning.

A 2021 survey by FMCG Gurus found that 45% of consumers associated probiotics with cognitive health, while 38% linked prebiotics.

It’s all related to the microbiota-gut-brain axis, that bidirectional interaction between the GI tract and the nervous system, and notably the ability of specific strains to produce key neurotransmitters like GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid), serotonin and dopamine.

Probiotic products on the market are already making stress or anxiety-related claims, with data from Lumina showing that the US is the leading market for such products, followed by Italy and then Australia.

Stress/ anxiety is the most common positioning for “Psychobiotics” globally, according to Lumina, but it’s the number two positioning in the US behind mood. The most reviewed brands online in this space belonging to the big guns like New Chapter (P&G) and Garden of Life (Nestlé).

Unilever is also exploring a potential prebiotic angle with its collaboration with Holobiome.

While the number of human clinical trials continues to rise (a search of PubMed​ for published clinical trials for “gut-brain axis” and “probiotics AND stress” both show steep upward curves), the results have been hit and miss. Strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus​ HN001 have failed to show benefits in nurses during the first year COVID-19 pandemic [1] or university students [2].

However, there are a number with promising results…

First up, Lacticaseibacillus paracasei​ Lpc-37 has been shown to reduce markers of psychological and physiological stress and anxiety in healthy adult [3]. A combination of Bifidobacterium longum​ R0175, Lactobacillus helveticus​ R0052 and Lactiplantibacillus plantarum​ R1012 was reported to dampen brain responses during an acute stress situation [4], while Lactobacillus rhamnosus​ CNCM I-3690 may decrease subjective academic stress in healthy adults [5]. There’s also Lactococcus lactis​ subsp. cremoris​ (YRC3780), which may decrease cortisol levels and help manage stress [6].

The sleep angle

Consumers are also waking up (pun intended) to the benefits of good sleep, and the links between stress and sleep may see more overlap in this space.

There’s data in the literature showing the potential of this approach (Lactobacillus plantarum​ PS128 was reported to improve the depressive symptoms and sleep quality of insomniacs [7]) and note that Unilever is investing big in this area with its partnership with Australian biotech firm Microba Life Sciences.

While still in its infancy (Lumina shows only 48 distinct probiotic products on the market making this claim globally as of June 2022), the ability of probiotics to improve sleep is sure to be a growing area in the future, and products that combine strains with stress/anxiety effects and sleep improvements could create new opportunities for brands.

Important to note though, that sleep saw the highest percentage growth in consumer engagement in the first half of 2022 with reviews up by 164%.

And with between 10 and 30% of the global population suffering from insomnia, we expect this category to grow and grow, especially when you consider that sleep deprivation is estimated to cost the US about $400 billion every year, according to the CDC.

Reviews per health benefit

Keep an eye on…

The US Military is also exploring the potential, with a recently launched clinical trial run by scientists at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick exploring the potential combination of B. longum​ R0175; L. helveticus​ R0052 (Cerebiome​; Lallemand Health Solutions) with prebiotic Bimuno-GOS (Clasado Biosciences) [8].

If positive results are reported from the Natick study (estimated study completion in May 2025), expect interest and media attention to skyrocket!


[1] Slykerman et al. Sci Rep12​, 14742 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-19104-9

[2] Slykerman et al. PLoS ONE,17​(6): e0267778 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0267778

[3] Patterson et al. Neurobiology of Stress, 13​, 100277 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ynstr.2020.100277

[4] Edebol Carlman et al. Nutrients​,  14​(7), 1329 (2022). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14071329

[5] Wauters et al. Gut Microbes, 14(1), 2031695 (2022) https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2022.2031695

[6] Matsuura et al. Eur J Clin Nutr76​, 574–580 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-021-00978-3

[7] Ho et al. Nutrients13​(8), 2820 (2021). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082820

[8] ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT05392556

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