The human gut microbiome influence on brain function and mental health is an emerging area of intensive research. Animal and human research indicates adolescence as a sensitive period when the gut-brain axis is fine-tuned, where dietary interventions to change the microbiome may have long-lasting consequences for mental health.
This study reports a systematic review and meta-analysis of microbiota-targeted (psychobiotics) interventions on anxiety in youth, with discussion of a consultation on the acceptability of psychobiotic interventions for mental health management amongst youth with lived experience. Six databases were searched for controlled trials in human samples (age range: 10-24 years) seeking to reduce anxiety. Post intervention outcomes were extracted as standard mean differences (SMDs) and pooled based on a random-effects model. 5416 studies were identified: 14 eligible for systematic review and 10 eligible for meta-analysis (total of 324 experimental and 293 control subjects). The meta-analysis found heterogeneity I<sup>2</sup> was 12% and the pooled SMD was -0.03 (95% CI: -0.21, 0.14), indicating an absence of effect. One study presented with low bias risk, 5 with high, and 4 with uncertain risk. Accounting for risk, sensitivities analysis revealed a SMD of -0.16 (95% CI: -0.38, 0.07), indicative of minimal efficacy of psychobiotics for anxiety treatment in humans.
There is currently limited evidence for use of psychobiotics to treat anxiety in youth. However, future progress will require a multidisciplinary research approach, which gives priority to specifying mechanisms in the human models, providing causal understanding, and addressing the wider context, and would be welcomed by anxious youths.
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