The Secret to Happiness? Gut Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a month when those who often suffer silently are acknowledged. As kefir producers, it makes us proud to know that our product may aid in bolstering mental health. There have been several studies that have linked probiotic-rich foods to a decrease in anxiety. In fact, we’ve written about probiotics’ potential mental health benefits before. ( See more here + here)


In a recent article at The Verge, Boston-area psychiatrist James Greenblatt explained that “‘the gut is really your second brain. There are more neurons in the GI tract than anywhere else except the brain.'” As research continues to develop, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is a link between the gut and the brain. What was once suspected as one-way communication (brain to gut) is now understood to be more of a two-way system. Thus, the health of our gut may directly impact the health of our minds.

White House and the Microbiome Initiative

On Friday, the White House announced its National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) which will “advance microbiome science in ways that will benefit individuals, communities, and the planet.”


Microbiomes consist of microbes, or microorganisms, that live and colonize on everything from people, plants, the soil, animals, the oceans, etc. Basically, they can be found everywhere — even your gut!

According to the White House, “The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiomes in order to aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration.”

The NMI has three primary goals:

  1. Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems.
  2. Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data.
  3. Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science and educational opportunities.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve come to understand how essential the microbiome is to the world around us,” said Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.

As producers of probiotic-rich kefir that may aid in a healthy gut biome, this initiative is very exciting for us, and we will be watching closely for new developments.

Lifeway Kefir and Mental Health Benefits

Our kefir contains 12 live and probiotic cultures with 25-30 billion CFUs per serving:

  • Lactobacillus Lactis
  • Lactobacillus  Rhamnosus
  • Streptococcus Diacetylactis
  • Lactobacillus Plantarum
  • Lactobacillus Casei
  • Saccharomyces Florentinus
  • Leuconostoc Cremoris
  • Bifidobacterium Longum
  • Bifidobacterium Breve
  • Lactobacillus Acidophilus
  • Bifidobacterium Lactis*
  • Lactobacillus Reuteri*

* Our ProBugs Kefir for Kids and Farmer Cheese products do not contain Bifidobacterium Lactis or Lactobacillus Reuteri, and contain 7 – 10 billion CFUs.

Kefir + Tryptophan + Serotonin

On top of this, our kefir contains tryptophan which is an amino acid that raises the levels of serotonin in your brain. According to WebMD, “serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical that helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another. Although serotonin is manufactured in the brain, where it performs its primary functions, some 90% of our serotonin supply is found in the digestive tract and in blood platelets.”

Many researchers believe that a lack of serotonin production in the brain can lead to depression. “Possible problems include low brain cell production of serotonin, a lack of receptor sites able to receive the serotonin that is made, inability of serotonin to reach the receptor sites, or a shortage in tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made.”

Researchers continue to study the effects of probiotics on mental health (and health in general). For further reading, check out these articles:

NAMI: National Mental Health Month
Gut feelings: the future of psychiatry may be inside your stomach
The Surprising Link Between Gut Bacteria And Anxiety
Prozac In The Yogurt Aisle: Can ‘Good’ Bacteria Chill Us Out?

Hope for the Day

Lifeway Foods supports Hope for the Day and will be sponsoring their upcoming Humboldt One Mile Race. This one-mile, chip-timed, road race supporting suicide prevention and mental health education is taking place this Saturday, May 21st, at 10 am in Humboldt Park, Chicago, IL. Be sure to come check us out at the post-race party for some sweet swag and recovery kefir.

For more information, check out: