Last modified on March 1st, 2023
Cortisol, the stress hormone, plays an important role in the body. Many organs of the body use cortisol, which helps to control stress, the immune system, and blood sugar.
However, cortisol levels can sometimes be too low or too high, causing Addison’s Disease or Cushing’s Disease in severe cases.
Chronic stress can cause long-lasting cortisol increases that can damage tissues and organs over time.
Even when levels are not dramatically high, cortisol triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, which may increase the risk for mood problems, weight gain, sleep problems and headaches. For this reason, some people are interested in ways to naturally control their body’s cortisol response.
Prebiotics and probiotics are supplements with some of the best data supporting their use in controlling cortisol levels.
How Cortisol, Prebiotics and Probiotics are Linked
Over the past several years, scientists have begun paying more attention to what is called the “gut-brain axis.”
This refers to the relationship between intestinal bacteria and the nervous system. Researchers have found that the brain can communicate with the gut, and vice versa, impacting both thoughts and emotions.
Doctors think that the intestines can communicate with the brain using the vagus nerve, one of the major parts of the parasympathetic nervous system. The impact of gut bacteria on brain health has been well documented over the past several years.
Researchers have been able to measure changes in mood, anxiety, memory, depression, stress and cortisol levels after changes in intestinal bacteria. They believe that one mechanism for this is that helpful bacteria like probiotics can increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain. GABA is known as the brain’s calming chemical.
It decreases activity in the nervous system and inhibits some brain signals that might otherwise excite the central nervous system. In tandem, stress, anxiety and cortisol levels may decrease. Researchers have found similar effects when prebiotics have been used.
What are Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Prebiotics are the fibrous parts of food that your body cannot digest. However, prebiotics are still very useful to your body.
This is because the helpful bacteria in your intestines ferments the prebiotic, a process that nourishes the helpful bacteria.
Prebiotics have several characteristics in common, including being:
-Resistant to stomach acid and enzymes during digestion
-Resistant to absorption
-Able to be fermented by intestinal bacteria
-Able to help friendly intestinal bacteria
-Unable to help possibly dangerous intestinal bacteria
Probiotics are helpful bacteria that may improve your health. They include many species of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
Some foods, like yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut, naturally contain probiotics. However, probiotics can also be purchased as supplements. Possible benefits of probiotics include:
-Helping to digest food
-Getting rid of damaged cells that might otherwise cause health problems
-Creating vitamins for your body to use
-Colonizing your intestines with healthy bacteria. In turn, there is less opportunity for dangerous bacteria to grow
-Boosting the immune system
Some supplements contain both prebiotics and probiotics. These products are referred to as symbiotics.
What is the Best Prebiotic Supplement?
Prebiotics encompass a wide range of chemicals and substances. Several different classes of prebiotic ingredients exist. These include:
-Fructans: Fructans are large groups of fructose molecules. This group includes prebiotics like inulin, fructooligosaccharides and oligofructose. Fructooligosaccharides and inulin can increase the amount of bifidobacteria in the intestines even at a low dose of between 5 and 8 grams daily.
-Galactooligossaccharides: This class of prebiotics is chemically related to lactose. They can stimulate bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
-Resistant starch and glucose-derived oligosaccharides: These classes of prebiotics create the fermentation product butyrate. In turn, butyrate supports the health of cells lining the intestines and also may protect against colon cancer.
These prebiotic classes are found in many different foods, including:
-Jerusalem artichoke root: Despite its name, Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke. Rather, it is a tuberous kind of sunflower that is sometimes called sunroot, sunchoke, or earth apple. Studies have shown that Jerusalem artichoke contains fructooligosaccharides which support the growth of bifidobacterium bifidum.
-Chicory root: Chicory is a woody plant that grows wild in Europe. It contains high quantities of inulin, which may stabilize blood sugar, improve calcium absorption, and protect from inflammation and colon cancer.
-Acacia: Acacia is a tree that is native to Africa. Studies have shown that acacia gum is potent at increasing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
-Green bananas: One of the world’s most popular fruits, bananas can increase bifidobacteria.
What is the Best Probiotic Supplement?
Several different probiotic types are available. The most common and well-studied kinds of probiotics include lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
Lactobacilli exist in both the intestines and the genitourinary tract, and get their name from their ability to produce lactic acid. In contrast, bifidobacteria produce both lactic and acetic acids as byproducts from glucose use.
Multiple species of each kind of probiotics exist, including:
The Best Supplements to Lower Cortisol Levels
Some of the best prebiotic, probiotic and symbiotic supplements are available on Amazon.com. We have provided a description of our top choices and a link to them on Amazon.com.
This Physicians Choice product is a symbiotic, as it combines both prebiotics and probiotics. The prebiotics include:
-Jerusalem artichoke root
-A patented prebiotic called fibregum bio
In addition, the product contains 10 strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria probiotic organisms:
-Lactobacillus acidophilus (La-14)
-Lactobacillus casei (Lc-11)
-Lactobacillus paracasei (Lpc-37)
-Lactobacillus salivarius (Ls-33)
-Lactobacillus plantarum (Lp-115)
-Lactobacillus bulgaricus (Lb-87)
-Bifidobacterium lactis (Bl-04)
-Bifidobacterium bifidum (Bb-02)
-Bifidobacterium longum (Bl-05)
-Bifidobacterium breve (Bb-03)
The recommended dose is one veggie capsule once daily. The capsules are delayed-release, which means that they slowly release their contents in the small intestine.
In addition, the capsules are acid-resistant, meaning that they are designed to withstand stomach acid during digestion. The product does not need to be refrigerated, in part because of its moisture-resistant packaging.
As a result, the capsules should remain in their original packaging and should not be put into another container like a pillbox.
Other ingredients include maltodextrin derived from rice for an increased probiotic effect and the amino acid L-leucine.
The product contains no binders or preservatives. It is third-party tested for purity and contains no soy, gluten, milk, egg, wheat, peanuts, and shellfish. In addition, the product carries a GMP label, meaning that it is compliant with the FDA’s Certified Good Manufacturing Practices.
Premium Probiotics product includes both prebiotics and probiotics, making it a symbiotic. The prebiotics are organic and include:
-Jerusalem artichoke root
The product also contains 10 strains of probiotics. Including not only lactobacilli and bifidobacteria but also a streptococcal strain:
-Lactobacillus plantarum (LP-115)
-Lactobacillus bulgaricus (LB-87)
-Lactobacillus acidophilus (LA-14)
-Lactobacillus casei (LC-11)
-Lactobacillus salivarius (LS-33)
-Bifidobacterium bifidum (BB-02)
-Bifidobacterium lactis (BL-04)
-Bifidobacterium longum (BL-05)
Finally, the supplement contains a digestive enzyme complex which includes amylase, glucoamylase, lipase, protease, maltase, cellulase, bromelain, lactase and papain. Other ingredients include acid resistant hypromellose capsules, magnesium stearate, silica and microcrystalline cellulose.
The manufacturer’s recommended dose is 1 capsule once daily. The product carries a GMP certification, meaning that it is compliant with the FDA’s Certified Good Manufacturing Practices.
Further, the product is non-GMO, as it contains no genetically modified ingredients. It is also third-party lab tested for purity. The product is also gluten-free.
High cortisol levels can lead to many unpleasant effects in the body, including increased anxiety and depression. Scientists are only now beginning to understand the gut-brain axis and the role that prebiotics and probiotics may play in not only reducing cortisol levels, but improving mood and overall health.