The health of our gut truly can determine the health of our brain. Not many people understand the connection between a healthy gut and our moods. Research is showing that when our gut bacteria is lacking, not diverse or has an imbalance, the health of our body is compromised and that includes our brain. This article will address the connection between depression, anxiety and gut health so you can start addressing the root cause and heal quicker.
Current treatments for depression and anxiety involve counseling, psychotherapy/psychiatry interventions and in some cases medications. Medications for anxiety and depression, like Zoloft and Paxil, fall under the class of drugs labeled Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI”s.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin was discovered in 1948 by Maurice M. Rappor. Serotonin is an important chemical neurotransmitter in the body and is created by a biochemical conversion process. It’s manufactured in the brain and in the intestines and the gastrointestinal tract is where 80-90% of serotonin is found. It’s thought that serotonin is responsible for mood and behavior.
So as you can see already serotonin is responsible for mood and behavior and over 80% of serotonin is found in the gut.
How Do SSRI Medications Work For Anxiety and Depression?
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the body that nerves use to communicate with each other in the brain. Neurotransmitters are manufactured and released by nerves and then travel to other nerves and attach to them to communicate. Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter.
Serotonin travels between the spaces of other nerves (synapses) and then attaches to receptor points on the surface of nearby nerves. Sometimes they attach to the receptors of the nerve that produced it and then it is reabsorbed by that nerve (re-uptake) and then released again by the nerve. This is called serotonin ‘re-uptake’.
Medications targeting anxiety and depression are usually known as a class of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI’s because what they do is block (inhibit) the reabsorption of serotonin back into the nerve. The serotonin is available in the synapse at least for a while.
According to WebMD, experts are not sure why SSRI’s work for some people and that’s because not much is known about the brain. The theory is that if serotonin is not reabsorbed back into the nerve by taking the SSRI’s that inhibit the process, levels of serotonin will be higher. They believe higher levels of serotonin would improve communication between the nerves and strengthen the circuits in the brain that regulates mood.
The Problem With This Scenario
Blocking the absorption of serotonin via these drug inhibitors don’t increase serotonin, rather they trick the body into thinking it has more serotonin. Over time, the use of SSRI’s actually depletes whatever serotonin the body has available.
How Is The Gut Involved?
So now that we understand a bit about serotonin, we can now look at how the gut is involved. Research shows that people who suffer from mood disorders benefit from taking a type of gut probiotic, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, and experienced significant improvements in their mood symptoms. Microbes that reside in our gut may be responsible for gut-brain communication involving our moods. This is referred to as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is a communication involving the brain, the central nervous system, and the enteric (gut) system.
It is estimated that 90 percent of serotonin is made in the gut. A study done by Caltech and published in the April 9th issue of the journal Cell shows that certain bacteria in the gut are responsible for the production of serotonin. When the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria was altered in studies on animals, brain chemistry was also altered affecting the animals moods and stress levels producing anxiety and in some cases their boldness.
Our American Lifestyle And Diet
Anxiety and depression are the most frequently diagnosed disorders today. Our fast pace of life coupled with the over-processed food that we eat, the overuse of xenotoxins (fertilizers, pesticides, carbon emissions) drugs including vaccines all contribute to an imbalance in our gut bacteria. Some gut bacteria are responsible for the production of serotonin which helps regulate moods and behavior. Our current lifestyle is contributing to the rise of these mood disorders.
How To Heal
- Nourish your beneficial gut bacteria with prebiotics. Prebiotics are plant fibers that cannot be digested by our digestive system. Our gut bacteria digest prebiotics leading to a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Prebiotics help reduce cortisol levels which tame the stress response that people with anxiety and depression have. Lowering cortisol levels has a positive effect on those with mood disorders. Prebiotics can be found in fibrous plants like artichokes, Jicama, raw asparagus, onions and raw garlic.
- Include probiotics with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains. Studies shown in animals suggest lessened anxiety and mood disorder symptoms after supplementing with these strains of probiotics. Foods that contain these strains of probiotics are foods that have undergone lactic fermentation like kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
- New, emerging studies are also showing carbohydrate maldigestion as a cause of mood disorders. I always encourage a gluten-free and even grain-free diet for those suffering from mood disorders.
- Eat a whole foods diet that is nutritionally rich and varied.
Eating behaviors should be reviewed and addressed when suffering from anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. Addressing the gut and the balance of good to bad gut bacteria is as important to healing mood disorders as cognitive therapy or medications are. Finding a functional medicine practitioner or functional health coach can help you address the root cause.
Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Linda is a Functional Medicine Health Coach