Effect of probiotic interventions on depressive symptoms: A narrative review evaluating systematic reviews

Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2019 Apr;73(4):154-162. doi: 10.1111/pcn.12804. Epub 2019 Jan 6.


Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses and is often associated with various other medical disorders. Since the 1980s, the primary pharmacological treatment has been antidepressants, but due to the recent discovery of the association between the gut microbiome and mental health, probiotics have been proposed as an adjunctive or alternate treatment. In this narrative review, we aim to provide a holistic perspective by synthesizing and evaluating existing evidence, discussing key biological mechanisms, exploring the history of probiotic use, and appreciating the influence of modern diet on mental health. Five online databases were searched for relevant studies up to December 2017. Systematic reviews that included randomized controlled trials assessing the efficacy of probiotics in the treatment of depressive symptoms were included. Seven systematic reviews met the inclusion criteria. Three of these reviews conducted meta-analyses, out of which, two concluded that probiotics improved depressive symptoms in the sample population. Out of the four reviews that conducted qualitative analysis, three reviews concluded that probiotics have the potential to be used as a treatment. Due to the differences in clinical trials, a definitive effect of probiotics on depressive symptoms cannot be concluded. Nonetheless, probiotics seem to potentially produce a significant therapeutic effect for subjects with pre-existing depressive symptoms. Further studies are warranted for definitive conclusions.

Keywords: depression; gut microbiota; gut-brain axis; probiotic; psychobiotic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Depression / diet therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / diet therapy*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Probiotics / pharmacology*
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic*