Heal your gut, heal your brain
Depression and other mood disorders are often linked with inflammation in the brain and other parts of the body, especially the gut.
A study at Johns Hopkins found that people with irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal issues are more likely to have symptoms of depression.
Psychobiotics is a fancy word first coined in 2013 by psychiatrist Professor Ted Dinan and neuroscientist Professor John Cryan for treating mental health through treating the gut microbiota.
The importance of your gut for healing depression and Anxiety
The enteric nervous system resides in your gut and the microbes that live there produce the same neurotransmitters that your brain does; Dopamine, GABA, serotonin, and more.
The two systems communicate from gut to brain via the vagus nerve known as the “gut-brain axis.”
Over 70% of your nervous system resides in the walls of your intestinal lining. and coincidentally around 70% of serotonin is made in the gut.
This may be one reason antidepressant drugs that focus on brain chemistry alone may be missing the point. Often these drugs stop working after a short while. It can be frustrating to have to keep switching up prescriptions or adding other drugs or larger dosages with diminishing results.
Drugging the brain makes some people feel a little better for a little while. And this is a good thing in an emergency!
But there’s a catch,
You often end up with side effects with pharmaceuticals. It may not be necessary to stay on them long-term for depression because there are other options now that we know about the microbiome and psychobiotics.
Inflammation of the gut and depression
Inflammation has been cited as a cause of some types of depression and frequently begins in the gut though depression and mood disorders of many kinds can also be caused by:
- Nutritional imbalances
- Chemical exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides
- Thyroid imbalances
- Birth control pills
- EMF exposure
There are many other physical causes of depression that do not originate in the brain. Depression is a blanket term for a group of symptoms and is often not an illness that needs to be medicated long-term.
How did your gut microbiome get damaged?
Your gut microbiome can become damaged or inflamed due to medications your mom took while pregnant. Or you can miss out on good probiotic strains during birth if you were born via C-section.
Most infants are given antibiotics and exposed to harmful microbes in the hospital environment. And this can lead to a suboptimal microbiome to begin life with, making you more prone to disease.
Fewer mothers breastfeed now, and we are exposed to refined foods growing up. This makes modern humans much more susceptible to inflammation and depression, among other conditions.
How you got inflammation is not as important as the fact that you can get well without drugs.
If you have a weak microbiome, to begin with, you may be more susceptible to depression and mood disorders than other people but there are things you can do about it.
Even if you had a good start as an infant, your nutrition in later life could damage the gut. The list of food additives that may contribute to depression continues to grow.
We are exposed to toxins in food. Then there are the general stressors during childhood and later on.
Plus environmental toxins, chemicals, food allergies, etc. It is pretty easy to mess up the microbiome.
This affects the immune system, and nervous system and is a factor in many inflammatory diseases from MS to arthritis, heart disease, obesity, and of course, depression and anxiety.
How to heal your gut to treat depression and anxiety
Prebiotics from a whole foods plant-based diet and probiotics that are made in your gut, can make a difference in balancing hormones and neurotransmitters in your body. But it can be difficult to find exactly the right strains you need in a viable form. Changing your diet is a better route to gut health than trying to just pop a few pills every day.
Changing to a nutrient-rich high-fiber whole foods-diet may have a huge effect on your mood over time. Some people are able to ween off medications completely. It doesn’t sound glamorous and it won’t happen overnight but there is anecdotal evidence for diet-based solutions to mood disorders.
The reason the evidence is often anecdotal is that you cannot patent food. Very few medical researchers can afford to study the effects of diet on mood disorders. That may be why doctors usually treat with drugs instead of dietary changes.
Pro-inflammatory foods VS anti-inflammatory foods
- Diets high in refined sugar
- Refined, denatured low fiber foods
- Gluten can increase depression risk even in non-celiac individuals
- GMOs contain glyphosate which annihilates good bacteria in the gut
- Artificial flavorings
- Dairy products
- Diets high in meat and saturated fats
- Plant-based high fiber diets
- Fresh organic fruits and veggies
- Non-gluten whole grains (here is a list of non-gluten grains)
- Healthy fats, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds, like flax and chia, omega three essential fatty acids
Whole-Foods Diets for treating anxiety depression
Kelly Brogan, MD emphasizes an ancestral diet with a lot of organic animal products such as bone broth, red meat, and collagen.
Paleo or “ancestral diet” practitioners get good results by cutting out processed foods. But it is hard to find meat and fish that is not contaminated even if it is organic. So it might not be a good idea to eat a ton of animal products long term.
There are recent studies that show a predominantly whole-foods plant-based diet is better for treating the microbiome and healing depression than taking probiotics which are often untested. A plant-based diet might be a good long-term solution to improving overall health and moods.
It is hard to find consistent strains of probiotics that have been tested on humans. Seed is a probiotic company started by MDs that seems reputable.
Here are a couple of links on plant-based vs. high protein paleo for depression:
- The best diet to fight depression
- Plant-based VS Animal-based diets for the microbiome which one is better for inflammation?
- What is the natural human diet?
- Lead content in organic animal foods, bone broth, and calcium supplements.
Why hasn’t your doctor told you about psychobiotics?
Although some scientists are beginning to make the connection between the gut and mood disorders, and studies have been around since 2009 and even earlier, many mainstream medical practitioners are not open to alternatives. Your doctor may never mention alternatives because they may not have heard of them.
Instead, you may have been given a prescription and maybe even some excellent talk therapy by a well-meaning therapist so you could white-knuckle it through life instead of treating the source of your symptoms of unease, depression anxiety, and pain.
Psychobiotics and nutritional interventions treat depression by treating the gut. This is simple and does not cost a lot. Depression and other mood disorders are labeled as ongoing “chronic diseases” that require ongoing prescriptions for expensive medications.
Oh, and by the way…
The pharmaceutical companies that peddle antidepressants are not happy about anything that cures people without drugs. Drug companies back many of the studies for antidepressants and want us to toe the line so they can keep profiting from our misery as patients.
Drug companies were able to get FDA approval for antidepressants because studies have been rigged to leave out studies that did not show positive results. And most drug companies only need two favorable studies to get FDA approval. Many drug companies publish only studies that show positive results for antidepressants.
It seems too good to be true
Our medical system makes things a lot more complicated than they need to be. They often disconnect one system from another treating minute symptoms instead of seeing the body as a holistic system.
Curing depression and anxiety may not always require pharmaceuticals or anything expensive, and this is never going to interest our sickness care system that makes a living off of your staying sick.
When you eat a natural whole-foods diet you can heal chronic fatigue, depression, MS, and other illnesses related to inflammation and immune system issues by yourself. No one wants you to know this because they would have to find new ways to make money.
The mainstream medical community may not be ready for alternative treatments
Many patients have been on these drugs for years and have been told they must stay on them for life. If this turns out to be wrong, those of us who have suffered side effects from these drugs will have to admit we might have suffered unnecessarily.
It is no surprise that a lot of people are resistant to try simply dietary changes. Many people have been on antidepressants for years and are physically dependent on them.
It can be a life-threatening and challenging process to get off of antidepressants. Often it requires careful preparation, and many prescribers of these meds have no idea how to help patients get off of psychopharmaceuticals.
Even big pharma is beginning to admit that getting off of antidepressants is difficult due to the withdrawal that can go on for months and leave scars for years. But they don’t even dare to call it drug withdrawal. It is euphemistically known as “discontinuation syndrome.”
To admit that you have been duped and try a new and radically none-drug path is brave indeed.
Denial of natural depression treatments
I come across articles by people who have recovered from depression, through natural diet, supplements, probiotic use and/or a combination of non-drug interventions. Usually, there is at least one negative comment from someone who has been on antidepressants for years and does not believe you can heal without drugs.
Books on Amazon about natural depression resolution usually have a few one-star reviews stating that the book is somehow stupid or irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary is or how many studies linking inflammation to depression there are, it takes guts to heal your gut!
Some people will never admit there might be another path besides pharmaceuticals for healing major depression, chronic low-level depression, bipolar depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
And I know it was hard for me to admit that I had
- been sick for longer than was necessary
- relinquished my power to doctors who may have been wrong
- taken toxic drugs that have may have damaged my brain
But when I finally tried healing my gut I was pleasantly surprised when my chronic fatigue and depression began to heal.
What does all this mean to you, and how can you use it?
As humans, we undergo a lot of stress. As kids and as adults. This can be long-term emotional as well as physical. It can come from foods we eat, from being given too many antibiotics as an infant or later in life. We can become susceptible to gut permeability and inflammation.
Stressors can ruin the gut microbiome through many different factors.
When the body is inflamed, the brain becomes inflamed through the communication between the gut-brain axis.
You can end up with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders and often several physical symptoms as well.
The standard treatments for depression and other mood disorders may not address the root cause of your particular issue.
I love talk therapy and find it very useful, but sometimes you need to repair physical symptoms too.
When you correct the issue with the gut the immune system heals, the brain heals, and this may help with depression symptoms.
But before you can do that you have to face that you may have been duped, morn the loss of months or years of suffering, lost relationships, lost money, ruined careers, lost opportunities, and lost time because you weren’t well enough to pursue them.
Getting on with your treatment
You have to pick yourself up, clean up your diet, get some lab tests done to make sure you are not missing essential nutrients. None of these tests are all that costly or complicated.
Kelly Brogan has a great resource page with a booklet on lab tests you may need.
The trick is to find doctors who are familiar with this new system of treatment and testing. Finding a good healthcare practitioner who is on your side can be the most challenging part.
But don’t give up if your regular doctor scoffs at you and says there is nothing wrong with your gut and that nutrition has nothing to do with how you feel.
Just keep moving along until you get the support you need.
These days more and more MDs are turning to functional and integrative medicine and will know how to help even if your regular doctor does not.
You can also work with a Naturopathic doctor acupuncturist or another practitioner who specializes in treating systems, not just parts of people.
You can start here:
- The GI Health Summit has a listing of many MDs who specialize in gut health
- The Institute for Functional Medicine has a list of practitioners nationally
- The Neuro-Nutrient Institute has a list of practitioners who focus on natural treatments
- Peninsula Integrative Medicine if you are in Silicon Valley
One protocol to heal your gut microbiome
The best book on treating depression naturally is by Kelly Brogan, MD called A Mind of Your Own. She gives you a four-week protocol on how to get on a new path. She even has a section on tapering off medications if you are interested. Download a free chapter here
She also has a more extended program with lots of free videos covering:
- Learning to cook whole organic foods
- clean out the cupboards and detox your body and your home
- Stop dying your hair and using toxic makeup, lotions, etc.
- From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain
- Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogenesis of depression
- The role of inflammation in depression: from evolutionary imperative to modern treatment
- Psychobiotics: An emerging probiotic in psychiatric practice
- Psychobiotics: Probiotics for Your Mind
- Psychobiotics: Bacteria to Brighten your Mood
- From gut to brain: the inflammation connection
- Malaise, melancholia, and madness: the evolutionary legacy of an inflammatory bias.
- American Gut