If you are trying to find ways to reduce your anxiety, go with your gut. Researchers from the University of Missouri have suggested that a probiotic, composed of live but beneficial bacteria meant to improve digestive health, can reduce both anxiety and stress-related behavior.

That idea comes from a study on zebrafish published in Scientific Reports in which the fish species responded better to stressors like overcrowded tanks when they were given a common bacteria found in both yogurt and probiotic supplements, Lactobacillus plantarum. Stressed fish usually spend more time at the bottom of their tanks, but the zebrafish who were treated with probiotic and introduced to stressors spent more time nearer the tops of their tanks. Author and university veterinary pathobiology professor Elizabeth Bryda explained in a statement from UM that the kinds of stressors the researchers introduced “are common environmental stress patterns, such as isolation stress and temperature change, so it made the tests relevant to humans as well.”

The findings could be important for designing new ways to treat anxiety disorders, which are some of the most common mental health disorders. According to the study, medicines currently focus on the brain, but anxiety and stress, in addition to creating neurological symptoms, “are also often closely associated with various conditions affecting the digestive tract.” Targeting bacteria in the gut could become an alternative approach to treatment: “These results underscore the influence ... microbes have on physiological function,” in this case specifically the central nervous system.

When it comes to gut bacteria, there are good guys and bad guys. Good gut bacteria can help digestion and keep the body’s natural ecosystem running smoothly, perhaps even helping people lose weight. Bad gut bacteria, however, can upset the stomach or even cause illness.

This study is not the first time it has been suggested that good gut bacteria could improve mental health. Researchers have previously suggested, for example, that probiotics could improve a person’s mood, which could ease anxiety and depression.

Aaron Ericsson, director of University of Missouri’s Metagenomics Center, said in a statement that while it’s common for people to use probiotics to improve the health of their digestive systems, they could also prove “beneficial to reducing our stress levels as well.”

The study in Scientific Reports also notes the potential for zebrafish to be used for similar research in the future.

Source: Bryda EC, Davis DJ, Doerr HM, et al. Lactobacillus plantarum attenuates anxiety-related behavior and protects against stress-induced dysbiosis in adult zebrafish. Scientific Reports. 2016.