How Does Gut Health Affect Depression & Anxiety?

How Does Gut Health Affect Depression & Anxiety?

Bev Dunne

Over the past two weeks I have written about the benefits in supplementing with therapeutic saffron to aid in the treatment of depression and anxiety in both adults and adolescents. There has also been much research over recent years which has found our gut controls our brain which in turn may control our moods.

Academic, Professor John Dinan, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Cork in Ireland has spent many years researching this connection between gut health and our moods. Together with Professor John Crynan, they have studied the effect of gut bacteria on our brain and our behaviour. Their research has found our ability to deal with stress is majorly affected when our gut bacteria is altered. In 2017 they released a book The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection.

They believe there are three main pathways which communicate between our gut microbes and our brain. Microbes can signal via our vagus nerve which is a conduit connecting our brain and internal organs including our gut. There are also particular microbes which create short chain fatty acids which have a major influence on how our organs function including our brain. And finally, they have found the amino acid Tryptophan, which is an important building block for serotonin, requires certain bacteria to thrive. As we know serotonin is important in regulating our moods and sleep.

Professor Dinan and Crynan believe the epidemic of depression is connected to the epidemic of gut problems we now see today, particularly in western society. There is mounting evidence poor gut health is connected to many diseases both mental and physical. They believe depression goes hand in hand with many diseases such as arthritis, autism, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS is an extremely common problem these days and the evidence they have found indicates the microbia in IBS patients is altered with at least 50% of their patients suffering from depression and anxiety.

There is no doubt stress, anxiety and depression have become a huge health problem in Australia and with current events it is unfortunately obvious these rates will increase substantially. So, keeping this in mind, at this time more than ever it is logical we try to maintain good gut health which in turn may go a long way towards helping maintain good mental health.

The first step in ensuring great gut health is to focus on eating good wholesome foods instead of high fat, high sugar foods. Is it just a coincidence there has been a major increase in depression and anxiety over the past few decades when there has also been an obvious increase in consumption of high sugar, high fat, highly processed foods?  The great news is, we all have the power to change this.  It is our bodies and we generally choose what we foods we eat.

To begin with we need to choose foods high in fibre which are beneficial in aiding good digestion. High fibre foods such as legumes, nuts, wholegrains, fresh fruits and vegetables, especially lots of greens can be beneficial. Soluble fibre such as linseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds are also are helpful as they are also high in omega 3,6 and 9.

Making sure we are eating foods which contain probiotics can be helpful. Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and good quality natural yoghurt. It is also helpful to include in our diet, pre-biotic rich foods which contain inulin such as garlic, leeks, asparagus, legumes, oats, Jersusalem artichokes and onions. These prebiotic foods assist in feeding the good bacteria in our gut. It is helpful to know that Inulin can also be purchased in a powder.

When it comes to mental health Professors Dinan and Crynan have found the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium longum to have an anti-anxiety effect in humans. This strain can be found in a combination of other probiotic strains also found in a capsule.