By Cathy Neville, LPC, on June 29, 2015
Let’s look at the science:
Your gut contains healthy bacteria in the lining of the digestive tract.
That wealth of “good bacteria” is called the microbiome.
The digestive tract and its bacteria are actually the nexus of our nervous system, hormonal system and immune system.
Gut bacteria pull out the vitamins we need for use elsewhere in our bodies and help our cells respond to damaging germs and foreign invaders. Also, a delicate and important balance of the molecules that regulate emotion, and manufacture important neurotransmitters like the brain messenger, serotonin, occur there.
What happens in the gut keeps us healthy, physically and mentally.
If the digestive tract is so closely linked to our mood, it makes sense that improving digestion and bacterial quality/quantity in the tract lining could improve a mood disorder.
How do we improve digestion and the microbiome?
Why? Probiotics are teaming with the good bacteria that also aid in obesity prevention, provide hormonal balancing, and support optimal kidney function, among many other benefits.
In 2012, Dr. Kristin Tillich led a team of researchers who conducted a study that proved a “gut-brain” connection. The UCLA study tested human brain functioning of 36 women, following four weeks of eating probiotic-laden yogurt. They reported, “The intake of an FMPP [probiotic] by healthy women affected activity of brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation.”
In a 2013 press release, Dr. Tillich noted, “Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.”
Now, there’s also solid evidence to support the use of prebiotics to ease depression and anxiety specifically.
How do we know? In the first-ever human study on the subject, researchers at Oxford University discovered that ingesting prebiotic bacteria seemed to inspire an “anti-anxiety effect.”
What’s a prebiotic? It’s a non-digestible food that feeds the body over and above what could be provided through diet. It helps maintain the healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut.
In a study published this year, a dose of prebiotic reduced participants’ desire to focus on the negative. Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” was reduced in female participants as well.
Stress and negative attention are huge factors in depression and anxiety disorders. The positive aspects of prebiotics in the 2015 research were so significant, researchers say it is as helpful as ingesting an antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug.
So, the real question is how can we claim some of those benefits for ourselves?
Facilitate better bacterial balance in your body by:
- Eating a high-fiber, plant-based diet
- Avoiding a high-fat diet
- Avoiding high sugar foods
- Ingesting more complex carbohydrates
Increase your consumption of probiotic foods that contain good bacteria. Try:
- Yogurt with live active cultures
- Fermented pickles
Increase prebiotic foods that feed beneficial bacteria. Eat:
- Whole grains
These findings, supported by scientific evidence, suggest that it is possible to improve our sadness, fear responses, and other stubborn mood problems through diet.
How exciting and empowering when it comes to taking charge of our mental health!