The benefits of probiotics – or “good” gut bacteria – have been making the news for some time now. Grocery store aisles abound with probiotic enriched products from yogurt to granola but it looks like probiotics are good for more than just healthy digestion. Recent scientific studies have uncovered an exciting new potential benefit for “gut bugs” and it just might change your life – or at least your attitude. New science is emerging that links particular strains of beneficial bacteria to improvements in the symptoms of anxiety and depression and you might recognize some familiar names. Specific forms of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, the strains you are likely to find in your probiotics blend, have been identified as being more than just a beneficial addition to our gut microbiome.

Bifidobacterium longum, for instance, has been found to decrease lactose intolerance, prevent diarrhea, lower cholesterol and reduce tumor growth. Scientists have now undercovered evidence that this bacteria might actually help reduce anxiety. Their findings seem to suggest that this is because of the bacteria’s toning effect on the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, known as the wandering nerve, winds through the body from the gut to the tongue and throat. It continues on along the lungs, heart and intestines. It even touches the glands that produce anti-stress enzymes and hormones that influence your body’s relaxation response. Mice receiving inoculations of Bifidobacterium longum experienced better vagal tone and as a result, a reduction of anxiety symptoms.

Bifidobacterium animalis, a bacteria found principally in humans, has been found to reduce bloating and intestinal discomfort experienced by those with irritable bowel syndrome. Scientist are now finding evidence that the bacteria might also inhibit the activity of MAO (monoamine oxidase). If you’ve ever been diagnosed with depression or anxiety you have likely been prescribed of the many classes of pharmaceuticals that chemically inhibit MAO in the body. Bifidobacterium animalis seems to do this job naturally. Additionally, there are promising reports connecting Lactobacillus casei, a bacteria found in the intestine and oral mucosa of humans, to the improvement of anxiety symptoms in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

While scientist haven’t fully uncovered the extent of the benefits of probiotics in the treatment of depression and anxiety, there is certainly no reason those suffering with these issues shouldn’t nurture a healthy microbiome. You can start by feeding the good guys already in your intestines.

Here are five fantastic foods for a thriving microbiome:

Bananas
Bananas work to maintain bacterial balance and reduce inflammation.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables – like kale, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-containing metabolites called glucosinolates that attach to carcinogenic substances in our colon and escort them out of your body. Bonus: cruciferous vegetables reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Blueberries
Blueberries boost your intestinal immune system and encourage diversity in your gut bacteria.

Beans
Beans strengthen your intestinal walls, improve immune function and provide fiber, protein, folate, and B vitamins which help promote a healthy gut.

Fermented plant-based foods
Fermented foods contain good bacteria to increase the your population of the good guys while helping to crowd out the bad guys.

Want more help lifting your mood? After enjoying a healthy, good bacteria nurturing meal, give an extra boost to the function of your vagus nerve with diaphragmatic breathing. This breathing technique stimulates a “feel good” chemical response in the body that reduces stress and as a bonus can also help relieve pain. Learn how with this easy YouTube tutorial.