Is Depression a Gut Feeling?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

June 5, 2015

  • The link between your gut and depression
  • Is your microbiota talking to you?
  • A healthy gut means a happy brain

There’s a secret society living in your gut. Scientists are calling it the “gut microbiome.”

And today we’re learning it may have a huge influence on your chances of depression, anxiety and emotional instability.

You see, the microbes in your gut aren’t just a bunch of bacteria that help break down and digest the foods you eat. They also produce neurochemicals like the ones found in your brain.

Here’s a perfect example: Your gut bacteria manufacture about 90 percent of your body’s supply of serotonin. You’ve probably heard of this brain chemical before. Low levels of it are associated with stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Your gut may produce other brain chemicals too, like GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. All of these can affect your emotions, sleep patterns and stress levels.

This phenomenon is called the “microbiota gut-brain axis.”

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Basically, it’s the ability your gut bacteria have to activate signals to your brain.”

This means your brain tunes into everything that’s happening in your digestive tract. So if you have the wrong mix of microbes in your gut, it could be skewing what happens in your brain.

The relationship is much stronger than researchers believed in the past. As a result, it’s highly possible we’ve been looking in all the wrong places to find a solution to depression and anxiety disorders over the years.

You see, antidepressant drugs are some of the most top-selling medications on the market today. The over-prescribing of them appalls me.

They’re addictive.

They cloud your thinking and can leave you feeling tired, dizzy and nauseous. Some can also make you gain weight.

I could get depressed just thinking about the consequences. But my gut microbiota won’t let me. And with just a few dietary changes, your gut (or the gut of someone you love) won’t ruminate and obsess over depressing details, either.

You see, there are certain foods that bolster positive gut bacteria – the kind that will make you healthy and keep your brain feeling happy. On the other hand, there are other foods that can destroy that delicate balance.

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These days, many of the foods you eat are artificial. They’re processed, sugared, salted, and loaded with chemicals.

Plus, knowing which “healthy” foods to eat is downright confusing, because the message keeps changing. For example, for decades a high carb diet was recommended. And look what a disaster that turned out to be.

Now here’s the thing.

When you eat the wrong foods, it upsets the balance of your microbiota. This sends depressive signals to your brain. And guess what happens when your brain gets depressed? You start craving high carbohydrate comfort foods. This, in turn, further disrupts your gut microbiota.

Not only that, but there’s also speculation that the bacteria in your digestive tract can influence the foods you choose to eat. It’s believed they manipulate your eating behavior to increase their strength and overwhelm their competition.

So once the cycle gets started, it takes on a life of its own. This can make it a struggle to control your depression. But that cycle CAN be broken. Here’s what I suggest.

The very first thing I recommend is arming yourself with a good probiotic formula.

Look for one that includes a prebiotic and multiple live strains of beneficial bacteria. The higher the colony count, the better off you’ll be.

Now, a probiotic alone isn’t a cure-all. But it will provide much needed support while you work on changing your eating habits to promote a healthy gut microbiome.

The fastest way to replenish healthy gut bacteria is eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables. These plant-based foods are associated with a highly diverse microbiota.

The more variety you include, the healthier your gut will be…and the happier your brain will be.

Meat, on the other hand, can throw the bacteria in your gut out of whack. And it can do it in as little as four days.

This is one of the reasons I recommend loading up on organic fruits and veggies 87% of the time, and eating meat only about 13% of the time. (And by the way, when you choose to eat meat, make sure it’s from grass-fed livestock or organic pasture-raised poultry.)

In addition to replenishing a healthy gut microbiota with food, we’re now learning exercise contributes to a positive diversity of bacteria in our digestive tract. And it’s long been known that getting your body moving releases endorphins. These are “feel-good” neurotransmitters that promote positive feelings.

However, I know it can be hard to get moving when you’re depressed. That’s why I suggest the buddy system. If you know someone is counting on you to be their exercise buddy, you’re more likely to make the effort. And that can be a very big factor when it comes to motivation.

If you’re feeling depressed, anxious or emotionally unstable, I heartily recommend you get started on these changes as soon as possible.

Also, if you’re currently taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, don’t stop cold turkey. Many of these drugs are addictive. So stopping them suddenly can send you into withdrawal. Make sure to engage your doctor’s help in weaning you off of them.

Maha Al-Asmakh, et al. Gut microbial communities modulating brain development and function. Gut Microbes. 2012 Jul 1; 3(4): 366–373.

Alcock J, et al. Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. 2014 Oct;36(10):940-9.

David LA, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014 Jan 23;505(7484):559-63.

Clarke SF, et al. Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut. 2014 Dec;63(12):1913-20.