The role of the gut in improving mood is not often what doctors consider first, but the research on the use of probiotics in depression and related mood disorders has gained traction both as a complementary therapy and a preventative measure.
Is lacking gut flora a type of stress for your brain?
A gut microbiome that is disrupted or not diverse enough can lead to elevated levels of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which is involved in creating a stressful state that can resemble anxiety. This has impacts on our health in both the short and long-term.
The health of your gut directly impacts the health of your mind.
The gut has a big role to play in your mood.
The reason for this is that commensals (aka the “good” bacteria found in a healthy microflora) have the ability to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and also other Central Nervous System (CNS) molecules that are implicated in depression.
Our gut sends messages to our brains and vice versa.
For example, Bifidobacteria infants strains can change the precursor pool for serotonin and hence its action on mood.
So, taking the right probiotic will go beyond just healing your gut. Plus probiotic supplementation has no side effects as would be expected with conventional anti-depressants (addiction, memory impairment).
The Best Food Sources of Probiotics:
- Kimchi (you can even can make your own to make it less spicy or buy at Korean groceries)
- Kombucha fermented tea (check the label to avoid brands with added sugar)
- Tempeh (which are fermented whole soybeans; always choose non-GMO soy)
- Pickled vegetables (make your own pickled carrots, cauliflower, etc. but use brine, not vinegar, to get the probiotic benefits)
How to keep the ‘good bugs’ around? Make sure to include prebiotics — what the probiotics feed on — in your diet. These are raw plant fibres that are not absorbed in the digestive tract. In supplement form, you may see them listed on the label as FOS, Larch arabinogalactan, Inulin or PHGG.Download Dr. Polina’s publication (with all the references) here.
Chronic stress is a problem for your gut health.
Chronic stress overload can lead to both gastrointestinal problems and mood disorders. For example, roughly half of people with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) also have mood disorders. Chronic stress directly disrupts the microflora balance and leads to leaky gut, making your intestinal wall more permeable (or ‘leaky’) to different proteins from food which in turn causes more sensitivities and reactions to show up for you.
What are the clues that you have leaky gut?
- You have an autoimmune condition (ex. Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Celiac Disease, Type 1 Diabetes)
- You are tired all the time and have low energy
- You are bloated, have IBS or IBD, and you know your digestion is “off”
- You’ve noticed more brain fog, headaches, or mood changes recently or maybe you always had this
- You have food allergies or intolerances
- You have itchy or red skin
- You have seasonal or environmental allergies
- You have joint pain
So how to test for ‘leaky gut’ and do we really need to?
Our intestinal walls are only one cell thick! What keeps the cells tightly together and regulates what can pass through them into the blood stream is a protein called Zonulin. You can actually test your levels of Zonulin (with a blood test) to know if you have leaky gut, which can be the underlying dysfunction behind many of your symptoms. Zonulin is particularly compromised in autoimmune diseases such as Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes.
Now, does everyone need to test their Zonulin levels? Well, we know that gliadin (the protein found in wheat) will cause increased zonulin levels and the development of leaky gut even in people without the gene for Celiac. That’s right, research is showing that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules (like proteins).
What does all this mean? If you have autoimmune disease or leaky gut, you could potentially benefit from a gluten-free diet. And this is true not only for those with autoimmune conditions but really most people to a different extent.
Ready to get started? Here is a quick and easy soup recipe that is gluten free.
Other gluten-free resources:
- Green Kitchen — I keep their apps on my phone, including healthy desserts, for quick recipes on the go
- Nourishing Meals — Their recipe books are great, with lots of tips on helping you implement a healthy diet
More tests your doctor didn’t tell you about (you need to know these if you have any of the leaky gut clues above!):
- ubiome — you don’t need a doctor to do this test, but it’s a good idea to get a functional medicine doctor that’s familiar with it to help you interpret the results
- Doctor’s Data — this is a comprehensive stool analysis
- BioHealth — similar to the Doctor’s Data above