Feeling stressed? This “psychobiotic” meal plan lowers stress and improves gut health according to new study

Target your gut to nurture your brain

“Stress” has been claimed by WHO to be the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”.

According to a German study only 19% affected by chronic stress and its consequences actually seek support. One of the most common side affects of stress and anxiety is irritable bowel syndrome, a gut brain disorder.

Through the gut brain axis the gut and the brain communicate with each other via various ways. 80% of the communication happens from the gut to the brain, including molecules from our gut microbiota.

According to the results of this new study feeding the gut microbiome is a new way to lower stress and improve mental health issues.

Introducing the “psychobiotic” microbiome diet:

A „psychobiotic“ microbiome targeted diet plan is based on whole grains, prebiotic fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, and legumes

In a small study by Bering et al (2023) forty-five stressed, but otherwise healthy adults were randomized into either a psychobiotic (n = 24) or control (n = 21) diet for 4 weeks.

Here is what the psychobiotic meal plan contained:

  1. 2000 – 2400 kcal (depending on if you are male or female)
  2. a general diet according to national dietary guidelines but increase:
  3. fruits and vegetables: 6–8 servings per day
  4. whole grains: 5–8 servings per day
  5. legumes: 3–4 servings per week as well as
  6. fermented foods: 2–3 servings per day, e.g., sauerkraut, kefir or Kombucha
  7. forbidden: “unhealthy” foods such as sweets, fast food or sugary drinks.

People in the control diet group were advised to eat a balanced diet according to current Irish food pyramid guidelines without any specific recommendations to include the above foods in the “psychobiotic” group

The psychobiotic diet reduces stress levels by 32 % in 4 weeks

The psychobiotic diet resulted in a greater reduction of perceived stress (32% in diet) than the control group (17% reduction). But even the “control” diet which is based on national guidelines lowered stress by 17% within 4 weeks

I love how they call it “psychobiotic” diet, which seems to be just a rather fancy way to eat a whole foods plant based diet, add some more veggies and fruits than officially advised by national guidelines as well as fermented foods.

The term “psychobiotic” diet seems to be just a rather fancy way of eating a whole foods plant based diet, add some more veggies and fruits than officially advised by national guidelines as well as fermented foods.

Is a specific “psychobiotic” diet necessary?

  • at least some of the stress level can be lowered simply by adjusting the diet towards a fresh whole foods based diet according to national guidelines and limiting unhealthy foods
  • a stronger focus on whole grains, prebiotic fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, and legumes may give an even stronger effect on lowering stress levels and mental health. However is not clear whether this is from fermented foods or just because they ate less processed foods and even more fruits and vegetables and grains as commonly advised by national guidelines
  • Disclaimer: the underlying root causes of stress and mental health issues however still need to be addressed also by other means than diet

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Dr. Sarah-Schwitalla
Dr. Sarah Schwitalla

PhD in molekularer Medizin und Biochemie 10 Jahre biomedizinische Krebs-Forschung und Pharmaindustrie Erfahrung TU München, Harvard Medical School, University of Cambridge.


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Berding, K., Bastiaanssen, T.F.S., Moloney, G.M. et al. Feed your microbes to deal with stress: a psychobiotic diet impacts microbial stability and perceived stress in a healthy adult population. Mol Psychiatry 28, 601–610 (2023).

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