Could the simple act of taking a probiotic supplement be enough to improve your energy levels?
Probiotic use in the developed world has exploded in recent years. Likely due to the growing body of new research that connects the health of your gut to the health of just about every other system in your body. Gut health may be the foundation to well-being.
But what about in the context of chronic fatigue syndrome or low energy levels? Can the health of your gut influence your daily energy?
I’ve written at length about the strong correlation between the health of your gut and chronic fatigue syndrome. For those short on time, the key take away is that dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bacteria and/or a lack of good bacteria) in your digestive tract could be connected to chronic fatigue syndrome. Those with CFS tended to have higher levels of bad bacteria and lower levels of good bacteria. (1, 2)
With that in mind, it’s a pretty reasonable hypothesis to think that simply adding a probiotic supplement may help improve your fatigue.
But what does the research say? Can probiotics improve the symptoms of CFS?
If you haven’t heard of probiotics, allow me to give you a brief introduction. Probiotics are live microorganisms with health benefits. Microorganisms are tiny organisms that can only be seen under a microscope. In order for a product to be labeled as a probiotic, two factors must be present:
- They are a live microorganism.
- They must provide a health benefit.
Not all bacteria are harmful germs! In fact, a lot of the bacteria found inside your gut is absolutely essential to your health and well-being. For example, bacteria in your intestines help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in or on your body. (3)
While it’s easy to conclude that a probiotic supplement will help with the health of your gut, it’s quite a big leap to say that probiotics can improve your energy. How is that even possible?
The benefits of probiotics in the context of chronic fatigue
I want to be perfectly clear that the use of probiotics will not cure your chronic fatigue syndrome. There is no evidence to support probiotics being a solution to CFS. (4) But that doesn’t mean probiotics supplements are useless. In fact, there’s a lot of research to support the symptomatic benefits probiotics provide to those with chronic fatigue syndrome.
At the time of this writing, probiotics have been shown to benefit those with CFS in the following ways:
- Probiotics improve the number of good bacteria in your gut.
- Probiotic use has been shown to help decrease the symptoms of leaky gut.
- Probiotics have been shown to improve the IBS-like symptoms commonly associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Probiotics improve anxiety levels in those with CFS.
- Probiotics decrease the number of inflammatory cells in your body.
- Probiotic supplements have been shown to improve your mood and emotional well-being.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Yet it clearly illustrates the benefit taking a probiotic supplement has on chronic fatigue syndrome. No, it won’t cure your fatigue. But it could improve a lot of your symptoms! All from the simple act of swallowing a pill. Now, let’s dig into how probiotics improve these symptoms!
How probiotics help chronic fatigue
Leaky Gut and probiotics
Intestinal permeability is the medical term for the condition you know as leaky gut. To determine whether (or not) your gut is leaking, a blood test will measure something called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). (4) lipopolysaccharides are large molecules consisting of a lipid and a polysaccharide; they are found in the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. If LPS are found in your blood, your gut is leaking – the lipopolysaccharides found on bacteria should only be in your gut. Not in your blood! (5)
What’s so bad about bacteria in your blood?
Elevated LPS is indicative of inflammation. (6, 7) Not just any type of inflammation, but chronic inflammation. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that elevated levels of LPS are correlated with chronic fatigue syndrome. When researchers combined LPS markers with the types of bacteria found in patient’s guts, they were able to accurately predict the likelihood of chronic fatigue. (8)
The simple addition of a probiotic supplement has been shown to decrease LPS levels and improve the tight junctions of your intestinal tract. By improving the tight junctions, you are healing your leaky gut – making it much less leaky! All this is done by simply adding a probiotic supplement. (9, 10, 11)
IBS-related symptoms and probiotics
If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, it would not be at all unlikely for you to also have a diagnosis of IBS. Official diagnosis aside, those with CFS are very likely to experience GI/gut-related symptoms. (12, 13, 14) The high prevalence of gut pathologies in CFS has lead many to suspect that fatigue starts in the gut. I don’t think we have enough evidence to say that gut health causes chronic fatigue (or any type of fatigue for that matter) but we can certainly say that these two systems are strongly connected. In my practice, I have found that a healthy gut is essential to improving energy levels.
Using probiotic supplements in the treatment of IBS is nothing new. But the research is finally starting to show that probiotic use in the treatment of IBS can bring about a benefit. In the context of IBS, probiotics have been shown to decrease bloating/abdominal distension, and improve abdominal pain/discomfort. (15, 16, 17)
Much like probiotic use for leaky gut, using probiotics as a treatment for IBS has been shown to improve symptoms. Probiotics have not been shown to cure IBS. For a deeper dive into probiotic use in the treatment of IBS, check out my previous post on the best probiotics for irritable bowel syndrome.
Intestinal dysbiosis and probiotics
I’ve written at length about the connection between bad bacteria/parasites/protozoa (dysbiosis) and chronic fatigue syndrome. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome have been shown to have decreased levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species of bacteria in their gut. (18) Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are thought to be two of the more dominant bacterial colonies in a healthy gut. (19) Using a Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium (or a combination of the two) probiotic supplement can help move your microbiome towards health.
Anxiety, depression, and probiotics
Incredible research has begun to show the connection between your gut and your brain (central nervous system). This new research has shown that pathogens (bad bacteria, parasites, protozoans, etc) in your digestive tract communicates with your brain and can influence behavior associated with emotion and anxiety. (20, 21) That last part is so important, I’m going to repeat it:
Emotions like anxiety and depression can be influenced by the bacteria found in your gut.
Therefore, it makes good sense to think that the simple act of probiotic supplementation could (in theory) improve your mood. But what does the research say?
A small trial of 39 participants (all with a positive diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome) found that after 8-weeks of supplementing lactobacillus probiotics (24 billion CFU 3x/day) participants had an increased number of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species found in their stool. This should come as no surprise – probiotics should increase the beneficial bacteria found in your gut and stool. But what was rather surprising is that the participants that took the probiotic supplement also found there to be a statistical improvement in their anxiety levels. (22)
Anxiety is a symptom that is commonly associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. This small study provides the baseline evidence to suggest that the simple act of probiotic supplementation should improve your anxiety levels. Another study showed that supplementing Bifidobacterium probiotics can alter serotonin and dopamine turnover in your brain. (23) While this was an animal study it does provide interesting information on how your gut and brain communicate with each other. An important part of improving mental health issues could be found in your gut!
Inflammation and probiotics
Autoimmunity and other long-standing illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome often have one characteristic in common with each other. Inflammation. Inflammation can be measured by an increase in something called cytokines.
Cytokines are any of a number of substances, such as interferon, interleukin, and growth factors, that are secreted by certain cells of your immune system. High levels of inflammatory cytokines are gaining so much traction in the health space that it is being thought to potentially be the cause of conditions like depression. (24, 25) If you’re wanting to be healthy, having low levels of inflammatory cytokines is absolutely essential.
Reducing the number of cytokines circulating in your body is a complicated process. It’s well beyond the scope of this post. With that said, there’s one simple step you can take tomorrow that will help to decrease inflammation in your body. Start taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics have been shown to help lower cytokine levels. (26)
Should YOU take a probiotic supplement?
If you take only one thing away from this post let it be that probiotics are one of the simplest ways to improve chronic fatigue syndrome. Probiotics have been shown to:
- Improve a leaky gut.
- Alleviate many of the symptoms associated with IBS.
- Alter the balance between good and bad bacteria (in a positive way).
- Improve your mental health by reducing anxiety and depression.
- Reduce inflammation.
Best of all, probiotic supplementation is an incredibly simple step you can take to improve your energy. All you need to do is swallow a pill 1-3x a day. Do that and you’re going to improve your symptoms. I don’t think there’s any easier step you can take to improve your energy. Except for maybe the 7 steps I outline in our eBook – Fix Your Fatigue.
Please note that not all probiotic supplements are created equal. There are some probiotics that you quite literally flush down the toilet. I’ve written a stellar guide to help you choose the best probiotics in this post.
It is not uncommon to have a negative reaction(s) with probiotics. You may need to try a few different bacterial strains before you find the one best suited for your gut. If you’ve done a stool test, you’ll know exactly which species to start supplementing! If you haven’t, start with a blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. In my practice, I’ve found Bifidobacterium and soil-based probiotics to be the most well tolerated.
Ok, there you have it – all the ways probiotics help with chronic fatigue.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What have probiotics done for your fatigue?
Also published on Medium.