Depression, Anxiety and Gut Health

Depression, Anxiety and Gut Health

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

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?gut microbiota

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. bifido bacteria raw probiotics
  • 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!

a0e284_ffef60fd9f084d2ab53dd3aa576055fc-mv2_d_1201_1800_s_2Linda is a Functional Medicine Health Coach

22 Comments Add yours
  1. Hi there, I have been suffering with anxiety and depression for about a year now and have been taking prescribed medication for a while and it really has helped me. I have tried changing my diet to make things a bit better but I just can’t stop eating like I used to, any ideas?

    1. Hi Matthew, so glad medication is helping you. I know it’s hard to change our way of eating, but if you want to heal in the long run, it’s best to start. When I say start, I mean start small with something doable. Overhauling our diet is too overwhelming for most people. I like to start with reducing sugar. Be very mindful of the amount of sugar you are eating on a day to day basis and then cut it back a lot. I run sugar reducing workshops all the time, if you’d like to get on my newsletter list, I’ll let you know of upcoming free workshops.

  2. Probiotics are definitely great for the body and specifically the gut. I know that I take them, and I also make my son take them. My dad has Parkinson’s and I did some research to see what there was (home remedies) to help with the symptoms, and maybe stop Parkinson’s from getting worse. Low and behold probiotics work to help as dopamine is made in the gut and people with Parkinson’s don’t have enough. Probiotics help this function, and though it hasn’t stopped his Parkinson’s, probiotics have helped. I will click on your link, as I can always use more for my family. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Our gut bacteria is a new territory in the area of health. We are about 90 percent microbial, can you believe it? That means the bacteria that reside in us and on us communicate with our body and influence health. Stay tuned for more fascinating findings in the area of gut health and the health of our body.

  3. This article is an eye-opener for me. I never thought that my diet could influence my mood too. And my diet is a complete mess! Serotonin is the hormone of happiness, right? So now I see… I definitely have to start eating healthy!
    Thank you very much for sharing this with us!

  4. Hello Linda,
    your article is smartly written. The relation between depression, anxiety and gut health is intelligently discussed. Even though it’s quite technical the information is clearly explained at all the stages of the post. The problem, what causes it, the available treatments and the best solution are presented in good sequence. I use probiotics yogurt regularly.
    I know where to go now in case I need more insights.

  5. Another great example of how our diet reflects on our health. This was a very interesting post and have learnt a lot reading this. I love trying new foods and came across a recipe for kimchi recently. You mentioned a list of foods that have probiotics and also the fermentation process , so does this mean that kimchi will be making my gut healthier with good bacteria?

  6. What such a useful site, you provide such an invaluable informative site full of good info. I can delve and see you have out some good thought and have gone through the steps in describing different conditions involved. I like your references to different websites too. I can really understand the condition clearly from your discussion and I find the detail is just right and to the point.

  7. Hey Linda. As a person who takes an ssri for my hypochondria-anxiety i can certainly relate. I may try your approach instead and see where it leads me. Thanks a lot!

    1. Thanks for commenting Antonis! Never go cold turkey with your depression/anxiety meds. Start slowly with the natural recs and then when you are coming from a place of strength, go over with your doctor a path to decreasing and then go from there.

  8. Informative read! I just started to take probiotics last month, and now I’m reading about prebiotics!? Always something that I’m learning! I’ve been watching several documentaries about heath and nutrition. The benefits of NOT eating processed foods and sticking with raw whole foods is alarming! Learning a lot about the gut as well — I always walk away with new info after I read one of your posts, I love it! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for commenting Courtney! Prebiotics you can get from foods like asparagus, onions, garlic, green bananas, and Jerusalem artichoke. It’s what probiotics feed off of. I’m glad you are becoming more aware of gut health because ALL health begins in the gut!

  9. This information is so amazing and definitely an eye opener (in some parts of the article). I tried a probiotics supplement in the past and it have left me using the bathroom a lot. So I had to stop. So I get probiotics from yogurt and kefir. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Sara, I’m glad you are taking probiotics in the form of food. I hope you give probiotics another try though if you are not eating those foods in sufficient quantity every day and your yogurt not sugar filled. Some strains of probiotic can be not right for you and a general all purpose immune booster probiotic might be best like the ones I write about here.

  10. Very useful post, Linda. Thank you!

    Your scientific knowledge is very good, and you make it so easy to understand. I now know the importance of our gut, and how to heal and nourish it.

    What are whole foods diet? Will you be writing an article about this to share more?

    Once again, thanks! 🙂

  11. Very interesting article!
    I did not now the details around Anxiety and Depression and the Gut. As you mentioned Anxiety and depression are the most frequently diagnosed disorders today. I have a few friends suffering of anxiety and depression related to weight loss (bad eating habits). They are taking meds but in all honesty I’m a little afraid of the way they are so depended of the meds. I would like to look for a more natural way to help them. You mentioned foods like artichokes, Jicama, raw asparagus, onions and raw garlic, kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut and gluton free food etc. Can you suggest a healthy menu for them to follow? I will share your article with them. Thanks for sharing this article because I learned a lot and now have information that could possibly help my friends.

    1. Hi Dira, I’m sorry about your friend suffering from anxiety and depression. What we eat is directly related to our mood. A good diet I recommend would be a gluten free diet to start. Avoiding gluten for 4 weeks.
      Reducing sugar is so important to stop the inflammatory process happening in the gut that is prohibiting serotonin synthesis, so important for good mood. Also, I would start eating foods that are anti inflammatory. Foods like organic bone broth, make sure there is adequate vitamin d (over 50 on a blood test) foods rich in magnesium. I will write a post addressing this.

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