Need a chill pill? Take a probiotic

The holidays can be stressful.

You have to shop for gifts, attend parties, host family gatherings and still fulfill your usual work and home commitments.

The holidays can also be hard on your stomach. Weeks of eating rich foods, way too many carbs and one too many desserts can quickly take a toll on your digestion.

But what if you could solve both of these problems with one fell swoop?

It turns out, you can. There’s an all-natural pill that can calm your mind and your stomach in the midst of holiday chaos.  And it’s something you (hopefully) already have on hand — a probiotic.

Now, I probably don’t need to explain to you how beneficial a daily probiotic is to your gut health—especially during times when your diet is a little out-of-whack. But you may be surprised to hear that a probiotic can help ease stress and anxiety — two unwelcome guests that often come calling during the holiday season.

Researchers from the University of Missouri recently discovered that the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum can reduce stress and anxiety levels in zebrafish exposed to stressful situations. In their study, researchers added probiotic bacteria to certain zebrafish tanks while withholding it from other tanks. Then they exposed all the zebrafish to stressful situations, like an overcrowded tank or draining small amounts of water from their tank.

Stressors like these have been proven in previous studies to cause high levels of anxiety in zebrafish. But, interestingly enough, zebrafish living in the probiotic-laced tanks weren’t stressed out by these situations anymore. In fact, researchers found that these fish had fewer metabolic pathways associated with stress. That means the chemical reactions that occur in their bodies during times of stress weren’t taking place as frequently.

Now, you may be skeptical of the fact that this study was done on Zebrafish and not people. But you should know, zebrafish have more in common with people than you would think. They’re an up-coming model species in scientific research because they surprisingly share 70 percent of their genes with humans.

Plus, there’s been tons of research on humans that shows probiotics improve brain health and mental well-being. For example, human studies have shown that probiotics can reduce stress before surgery and alleviate social anxiety. That means it’s not much of a stretch to think that popping a daily probiotic can help you handle holiday stress.

If you want to test this theory for yourself in the coming weeks, buy a multi-strain probiotic that gives you at least 15 billion beneficial bacteria per day. If you want to try the probiotic used in the study, check your probiotic supplement label for Lactobacillus plantarum. It’s a popular and effective probiotic strain that’s available in many probiotic supplements, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. It’s also found in yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi.

After the holidays, a daily probiotic can be a valuable tool towards meeting your health goals for the new year. Why? Probiotics are also reported to melt fat, fight disease and keep your body young. So there really is no excuse not to take them year round.

  1. J. Davis, et al. “Lactobacillus plantarum attenuates anxiety-related behavior and protects against stress-induced dysbiosis in adult zebrafish.” Scientific Reports, 2016.
  2. “Why use the zebrafish in research?” Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  3. Yang, et al. “Probiotics reduce psychological stress in patients before laryngeal cancer surgery.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology. March 2016;12(1):e92-6.
  4. R. Hilimire, et al. “Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model.” Psychiatry Research. Aug 15 2015;228(2):203-8.


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and