In This Article
In This Article
Depression is a mental illness that affects 280 million people worldwide.1 It was previously thought to be caused by neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain.2
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), major depressive disorder is a leading cause of morbidity worldwide,” says our in-house medical expert, Dr. Rizza Mira.
New research suggests that the gut microbiome may be essential to mental health and depression.3
Scientists have discovered an intriguing link between the gut microbiome and mental health over the last decade.3,4,5
A Rotterdam Study discovered that gut bacteria help produce mood-related brain chemicals linked to depression.6 Another study examines microbiota production of inflammatory signals that lead to brain inflammation.
We can safely say that gut bacteria and microbiome diversity impact our health, cognitive function,7 behavior, and mood.8
This discovery has opened up a promising new line of research. It's possible that focusing on a healthy gut may help prevent and treat depression.
The gut-brain connection is a two-way communication network. It connects the gastrointestinal tract to the central nervous system.9 This complex system relays information between the gut and brain via multiple pathways.
The gut microbiota can produce and respond to various brain-signaling chemicals. It serves as a vital communication system component.
Research reveals that the gut microbiome influences the production and regulation of several neurotransmitters.10 These neurotransmitters all play essential roles in mood regulation.11,12
Furthermore, gut bacteria can create special substances that help control specific brain activities. Some of these can influence brain disorders.13
Compelling evidence links gut microbiota composition to mental health disorders such as depression.
For example, researchers found that some people with depression have imbalances in certain gut bacterial species.14
Animal studies show that an imbalance in microbiomes can induce depressive-like behaviors.15 This lends credence to the idea that gut microbes can contribute to depression development.
“The same study shows that an increase in infectious bacteria also boosts the symptoms of depression,” explains Dr. Mira.
The microbiome can also affect the body's stress response. It does this via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is a key stress response system.16
Individuals with depression were found to frequently have imbalances when it came to the HPA axis.17 This means that the gut microbiome potentially influences an individual's susceptibility to depressive symptoms.
Researchers are still investigating the mechanisms underlying the relationship between gut bacteria and depression. However, it is becoming clear that a healthy gut microbiome is important for mental health.
Dietary interventions, probiotics, and prebiotics promote gut microbiome diversity. They have shown promise in improving depressive symptoms and overall mental health.18
Gut microbiome research has shed light on the impact of good gut bacteria on mental health and depression.
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The gut, frequently called the "second brain," is home to trillions of bacteria. These bacteria are collectively called the gut microbiota.19
These microbes are essential for many bodily processes. These include digestion, immune system control, and neurotransmitter synthesis. These processes all affect mood and behavior regulation as well as impulse control.
Dysbiosis is a disruption or imbalance in the composition and function of the gut microbiome.20 Individuals suffering from depression have been observed to have dysbiosis.
Evidence shows that depressed people have a lower diversity of good gut bacteria. They also have changes in specific bacterial species than those who are not depressed.14
Gut imbalances contribute to inflammation, oxidative stress, and impaired gut barrier function.21 These have all been linked to depression.
The gut-brain axis is an important communication pathway that connects the gut and the brain. Acute and chronic stress can significantly impact the gut microbiome and its overall health.
The body's stress response system includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This system gets activated when we feel stressed. This results in significant changes in the gut microbiome composition.22
These changes can exacerbate stress and contribute to depressive symptoms.
Chronic stress raises the production of stress hormones, which can weaken gut barriers. This can negatively affect the microbiome.22
Cortisol levels that are too high can disrupt the balance of beneficial gut bacteria. They may also encourage the growth of potentially harmful gut microbes.
When gut bacteria balance is disrupted, it can mess with the creation of important brain chemicals. Prolonged stress also leads to increased production of pro-inflammatory signals. In turn, this affects mood maintenance and overall mental well-being.
Serotonin, also known as the "happy neurotransmitter," is essential for mood, sleep, appetite, etc.23
While serotonin is most commonly associated with the brain, it is estimated that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut.23
Serotonin is produced in the gut by specialized cells known as enterochromaffin cells. These cells directly contact the gut microbiota.24
Certain bacteria in the gut can promote serotonin production.25 Imbalances in the microbiome can disrupt serotonin production and availability. This potentially contributes to mood disorders and depressive symptoms.
Additionally, the gut microbiome can directly metabolize tryptophan.26 Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor for serotonin.27 Gut bacteria can convert tryptophan into substances that break down food. Some of these have been shown to affect brain function.28
Improving gut health has been shown to improve mental health. Gut bacteria are essential in neurotransmitter production, immune system function, regulating inflammation, and overall gut-brain axis communication.29
A healthy gut microbiome reduces the risk of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders.
While improving your gut is not a cure-all for mental health issues, it can aid mental health.
Integrating gut-health strategies may contribute to a more balanced and resilient mind-body connection.
Fortunately, several natural ways exist to improve your gut and support healthy gut microbiomes. Here are some crucial strategies.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria or yeasts found in certain foods or supplements.30 These microorganisms can aid in restoring and diversifying gut bacteria.
Probiotic-rich foods to look for include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. Probiotic supplements can also help, but consult your doctor before taking them.
Prebiotics are nondigestible fibers that feed healthy gut bacteria.30 You can encourage the growth and activity of these beneficial bacteria by eating prebiotic-rich foods.
Prebiotics are abundant in onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, oats, and legumes. Including a variety of dietary fibers can also help maintain a healthy gut environment.
Chronic stress can affect your gut and lead to gut problems.31
Discovering effective stress management techniques can help reduce stress and promote a healthier gut. These include exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or participating in hobbies.
Mind-body practices such as yoga or tai chi can also help manage stress and improve the gut-brain axis connection.
Your gut requires a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods.
Consume fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods supply essential nutrients while also providing healthy gut bacteria.
Avoid consuming processed foods, refined sugars, and artificial additives. This can help improve your gut and prevent obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
“Food that contains refined sugars and trans fats are pro-inflammatory. When taken in excess, they can cause inflammation that contributes to illness,” says Dr. Mira.32
It is critical to stay hydrated to maintain optimal health in the gut.33 Water is beneficial to digestion, nutrient absorption, and bowel regularity.34
Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water throughout the day and limit your intake of sugary beverages.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet for gut health and depression. However, specific dietary patterns can promote healthy gut microbiome composition while supporting mental health.
The following are some critical considerations for a gut-healthy and depression-friendly diet:
Certain foods can help reduce your risk for depression.38 The following are some anti-inflammatory foods that you should incorporate into your diet.
Similar to foods that promote a healthy gut, some foods don't promote a healthy gut. It's best to limit your consumption of the following foods:
Remember that eating a healthy diet is only one aspect of promoting gut health and supporting mental health.
Combining a healthy diet with exercise, adequate sleep, and seeking professional help is critical for maintaining your gut.
Consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized dietary recommendations.
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