Table of Contents
- 1 Probiotics may relieve depression
- 2 Taking the first step
- 3 The link between depression and gut bacteria
- 4 Probiotics – a potential treatment for depression
- 5 Why fixing your gut can work better than antidepressants
- 6 Natural sources of healthy probiotics
- 7 Adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet
- 8 Share this:
Probiotics may relieve depression
It’s completely normal to experience sadness or disappointment from time to time, given life’s struggles and hardships. However, there’s a vital difference between having the winter blues and feeling despair and emptiness for a prolonged period of time. If you find yourself overpowered by apathy or relentless unhappiness, then you may have depression. Whether you’re tenacious or easily overwhelmed, a mental health diagnosis can be difficult to come to terms with. However, there are many ways to cope with depression, and different things work for different people.
Taking the first step
Once you’ve accepted your diagnosis, it’s very important to learn that there isn’t one single magic pill that will fix everything, but rather that there are many methods that you can investigate to help you manage the intensity of your depression. Through trial and error, you’ll find what resonates most with you and what works best in your most difficult moments. Irrespective of the treatment you’ll receive (be it medication, psychotherapy or social support), your doctor will undoubtedly ask you to make certain lifestyle changes. This means that you will have to pay more attention to your sleeping patterns, exercise routine and, last but not least, your diet choices.
You might be surprised to find out that your gut contains approximately 100 trillion bacteria – this is 10 times as many bacteria as cells in your body. Contrary to what we’ve been taught about microbes, part of these organisms are actually healthy for us. The good bacteria influence our well-being in many ways – they protect against infection, contribute to extracting energy from food and help build up the body’s immune system.
These strains of good bacteria, also known as probiotics, have been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression and have become a primary topic of interest in the field of psychology.
You may have heard that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. While this is partly true, this general explanation is too simplistic. In fact, depression has been linked to low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (chemicals responsible with regulating mood and behavior, which also cause you to feel happy or excited).
Recent studies have found that gut bacteria play an important role in the production of neurotransmitters. Moreover, it is estimated that up to 90% of the amount of serotonin in the body is formed in the digestive tract. It has been found that if certain types of these good bacteria are removed, there is a considerable reduction in the body’s supply of serotonin. Given the insight into the intricate relationship between brain and gut, scientists are now interested in studying the effect of probiotics and prebiotics (the carbohydrates that serve as food for the good bacteria) on mental health.
Probiotics – a potential treatment for depression
Once considered a fringe idea, an increasing number of researchers are considering probiotics and prebiotics in the treatment of mental health disorders. A recent study conducted by the Leiden Institute of Brain and Cognition concluded that good gut bacteria can help improve emotional health. Researchers examined a group of 40 healthy young adults with no mood disorders over the course of four weeks. Half of them were given a powdered probiotic supplement every night, which contained eight different types of bacteria (among them, Lactobacillus, Lactococcus and Bifidobacterium). The other half were given a placebo. The results showed that the people who consumed probiotics began to see significant improvements in their mood.
Compared to the control group, the participants also reported less reactivity to sad moods, as well as having fewer ruminative thoughts (repetative negative thoughts, one of the leading risk factors for depression).
Researchers are still unsure regarding the exact mechanisms through which gut flora affects brain activity. However, it is suspected that the vagus nerve – which is responsible for for transmitting sensory information from the gut to the brain – plays a key role in the process. Another factor is that a healthy gut flora can augment the body’s immune system, which in turn can positively affect the brain.
Why fixing your gut can work better than antidepressants
There’s no doubt that prescribed medication can greatly help with mental health disorders. However, there are several serious side effects that might be of concern to you. If you’re interested in a more holistic, less invasive approach to regulate your mood, then you might respond better to making lifestyle changes, including adjustments to your current diet. By consuming meals rich in probiotics, you can ensure that your body produces more dopamine and serotonin, boosting your mood and making you feel happier.
In addition, the neurotransmitters that good bacteria help make will also help dial down the stress hormones released in the body. If you’ve had a poor diet throughout the years, your gut immune system is likely to have become prone to food sensitivities. This means that when you are consuming certain foods, your body releases cytokines, immune cells which create inflammation and have been shown to cause “brain fog”, fatigue and even depression. Consuming probiotics will strengthen your gut immune system and stop the inflammation, alleviating or completely reversing the unwanted symptoms.
Natural sources of healthy probiotics
One of the best probiotic foods is live-cultured yogurt. Goat’s milk in particular is high in healthy gut bacteria like bifudus, thermophillus and acidophilus. Moreover, certain brands infuse the milk with additional forms of probiotics such as lactobacillus. Kefir is a fermented dairy product, similar to yogurt, which is rich in probiotics, as well as antioxidants. Other great sources include sauerkraut (made from fermented cabbage), micro-algae (spirulina, chorella and blue-green algae), kombucha tea (fermented, sweetened black or green tea), high-quality dark chocolate and tempeh (a great substitute for meat made from fermented soy beans). If all this sounds like too much of an effort to you, there are always probiotic supplements that you can try. Before purchasing, make sure you check the specific strain of probiotics used, the expiration date and the product’s packaging and delivery system.
Adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t seem to make these diet changes right away. Start small – buy more yogurt and give tempeh a try next time you go grocery shopping. Or, if cooking seems like too much of a hassle, you can always try out a probiotic supplement to start with. Either way, it’s essential that you slowly but surely adjust your diet in order to favor good dispositions and reduce stress, persistent negative thinking and sad moods. The most surefire way to do that is by consuming bulkier amounts of probiotics. It’s important to keep trying new things and find what works for you. Remember that depression is not insurmountable and that oftentimes it’s the little things that uplift your mood and get you through the day.