Did you know that mental health is directly linked to gut health. It’s common for individuals with poor gut health to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
If you suffer from depression, it’s important to understand the link between the gut and brain. I’m going to explain everything you need to know.
First, I’m going to cover this crucial link in detail. Then I’m going to tell you what steps you can take to improve your gut health. In short, this means food and maybe supplements.
Here we go . . .
The Link Between Gut and Brain
Microbes in the gut release hormones and neurotransmitters which regulate mental health. These compounds send information from the gut to the brain. Depressed people have lower amounts of “good” bacteria in their gut.
The link between gut health and mental health is a bi-directional pathway. So, just as gut health can affect mental health, the reverse is also true. People with poor gut health commonly suffer from gut health problems such as constipation, gas, bloating and chronic diarrhoea.
Depression can lead to gut health problems due to dysbiosis (imbalance of gut bacteria). This can cause damage to the gut barrier, which in turn can cause intestinal permeability. This is commonly known as leaky gut syndrome.
A leaky gut can cause diarrhoea, increased inflammation, abdominal pain/cramping, allergies, skin problems, and obstructions of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The bi-directional pathway between the gut and brain is known as the gut-brain axis. It’s comprised of the central nervous system (CNS), neuroendocrine and neuroimmune systems, autonomic nervous system (ANS), enteric nervous system (ENS) and gut bacteria.
The ANS controls communication between the CNS and the ENS. The CNS is the part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord.
The ENS controls the function of the gastrointestinal tract. It is made up of two thin layers of nerve cells which line the GI tract. It controls blood flow and secretions that help to digest food.
Both the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PSNS) branches of the ANS are involved. The SNS is responsible for stimulating the body’s “fight, flight or freeze” response. The PSNS is responsible for stimulation of “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” activities.
The ANS triggers the release of a large amount of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, emotion and sleep.
It also stimulates receptors in the GI tract. These receptors are responsible for muscle contractions (peristalsis) and digestive secretions.
Communication between the CNS and ENS is controlled by a number of structures and functions. The structures involved are the vagus nerve and the prevertebral ganglia.
The functions involved are enteroendocrine signalling, intestinal barrier function and immune activation. The vagus nerve transfers messages from the brain to the gut, and vice versa.
What Are Probiotics?
The “good” bacteria that line your digestive tract are known as probiotics. However, your gut also contains harmful bacteria. It is essential to keep a balance between these two types.
The balance of gut flora should be roughly 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad bacteria.
As previously mentioned, depression can lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria (dysbiosis). This results in less of the good bacteria.
Less good bacteria means impaired ability for regulating mental health. It also results in too many bad bacteria. This can cause leaky gut syndrome.
By eating probiotic-rich foods and/or supplements, you can help bring your gut bacteria back into balance.
Best Foods for Gut Health
Eating probiotic-rich foods helps improve and maintain gut health. These foods help increase the number of good bacteria in our gut and remove the number of harmful bacteria. A higher proportion of good bacteria in the gut means better gut health.
Foods rich in probiotics include:
Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider contains prebiotic fibre that feeds probiotic bacteria in the gut. It also helps relieve inflammation in the gut.
Asparagus: Asparagus contains a large amount of the prebiotic fibre inulin.
Beans: Beans help maintain the right balance of gut bacteria. They do this by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria, and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Beans are also beneficial for overall gut health due to their high fibre content.
Collagen-Rich Food: Collagen is a protein that helps repair the gut lining and heal a leaky gut. Good sources of collagen include leafy greens, citrus fruits and oysters.
Dandelion Greens: Dandelion greens contain a large amount of the prebiotic fibre inulin.
Flaxseed: Flaxseed contains prebiotic fibre that feeds the probiotic bacteria. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent inflammation. Plus, it is rich in antioxidants that help the probiotic bacteria to proliferate.
Jerusalem Artichoke: Jerusalem Artichoke contains a large amount of the prebiotic fibre inulin.
Kombucha: Kombucha is made from fermented tea. It contains a large number of probiotic bacteria that help treat inflammation of the gut and leaky gut syndrome.
Mangoes: Mangoes contain a large amount of polyphenols and fibre that help restore the balance of gut bacteria. It also helps prevent inflammation in the gut.
Miso: Miso is a paste produced from fermented soybeans. It is a kind of seasoning, and is often used to make soup. Miso is a good source of both prebiotics and probiotics, especially Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Onion: Onions are rich in prebiotic fibre that feeds good bacteria in the gut.
Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is produced by fermenting cabbage. It is rich in probiotic bacteria, especially Bifidobacterium longum.
Probiotic supplements are another way to ensure you’re getting enough probiotics.
There are many different probiotic supplements on the market. There are also a number of important factors, such as:
- bacteria types
- CFU (colony forming units) count
- proper storage and temperature at the factory
- and on and on, ad nauseum
It can be a bit overwhelming to make the right choice. To simplify things, just look for:
- a good brand . . .
- . . . that contains the right types of bacteria . . .
- . . . and a prebiotic
A Good Brand
To find a good brand you have three options:
- choose a well-known brand with plenty of good reviews on Amazon or TrustPilot
- if you know a local health food shop that you can trust, ask them for advice
- Use the same as me! – Viridian Synbio
Note: Viridian is a UK-based company, and they only supply to European countries. If you live outside Europe, Solgar is a good alternative. They are US-based, and supply worldwide.
The Right Types of Bacteria
Just make sure to choose a supplement that contains Bifidobacterium longum ATCC 15707. This is the most important probiotic for reducing depression and anxiety. In addition to this, Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 can help prevent or repair a leaky gut.
Prebiotics feed the probiotic bacteria in the gut. The one to look out for is inulin. Inulin is a natural, dietary fibre derived from plants. It is a strong prebiotic and remains undigested until it reaches the lower gut.
Okay, I’ve covered in detail the link between the gut and brain. I’ve explained why it’s important to understand it I if you suffer from depression. And I’ve told you what foods and supplements you can take to improve your gut health.
This knowledge is powerful. It can really make an impact on your depression. Put it to use and it will really help your recovery.
Start incorporating some of the suggested foods into your diet. There are sure to be at least a few that you like. Give it a few weeks, and see how you feel.