The next time you have a “gut feeling”, it might be good for your health to pay attention. The microbiome in our gut is connected to our brain. In fact, scientists call our gut “the second brain”. The gut and the brain communicate constantly with one another by sending chemical signals along what is called the gut-brain axis. The gut bacteria aids in digestion, helps balance our immune system, protects against other harmful bacteria that cause diseases, and assists in production of vitamins and nutrients the body needs. Now scientists are showing a distinct link between our microbiome and depression, which means our mental health could be drastically influenced by our diet, and our gut. (1,2)
Microbiome and Depression
The connection between our brain and our guts wasn’t even discovered until the 1990s, and research discovering how these links affect our health and well-being didn’t hit the media until the mid-2000s. So, the science uncovering our microbiomes and depression are relatively new, but there is plenty of research to support the idea that our mood and our mental well-being is heavily influenced by our gut. In other words, while we may not be what we eat, our feelings might be. (3)
Research on Microbiomes and Depression
The plethora of studies on how our microbes and gut bacteria impact our mental health are beginning to pour in, and they are all pointing to the same conclusion. Balance the microbiomes in the gut, and find balance in more than just your physical health.
A 2018 study showed that people missing some key gut bacteria, such as Coprococcus, are more likely to be depressed. Those with more butyrate-producing gut microbes, microbes which assists in removing toxins from the brain, such as Coprococcus or Dialister, had a higher quality of life. In another study, with rats, bacteria from depressed people was transferred to the intestines of healthy normal rats, which led to depressed behavior in those rats. Comparatively, stressed out rats in another study received bacteria from unstressed animals, and they acted less depressed. (3,4)
A Microbiome-Healthy Diet
While it’s not just food that affects our microbiome and depression (taking probiotic supplements is an easy and convenient way to receive a healthy recommended amount of gut-promoting microbes), it is a big factor. Eating foods which support a healthy microbiome doesn’t just impact your digestion, it aids in all the potential benefits our guts provide for our well-being. Many recipes provided on the site are healthy gut-promoting meals (https://askdrnandi.com/recipes/).
However, it’s often not just what we add to our diet that helps, but what we remove that promotes better health. Wheat can potentially cause gastrointestinal distress, regardless of whether you tolerate wheat and gluten or not. A diet high in sugar and fried foods may also contribute to poor gut health. (4)
Microbiomes and You
Which foods and supplements are best for you and your microbiome? There isn’t a “magic-bullet strain of microbes” that will work for everyone. Each person’s gut is unique, and the right formula for you requires a bit of self-detective work. You can get your microbiome tested to determine which foods may benefit you the most. You can also trust your gut to guide you. The research on microbiome and gut health is fast-paced and rapidly evolving. It’s an exciting time for those butterflies in our stomachs. Let’s see how our health and mental well-being take off by listening to them.
- Aspey, D. (2019) Super Human. Harper Wave. (pages 42-62, 199)