The Everyday Food That Could Help to Reverse Depression

The Everyday Food That Could Help to Reverse Depression

There’s absolutely no doubt that a healthy gut is important for mental health. We’re still discovering the detail of the connection, but what we do know is that the relationship between the two is a strong one, and that together they form an integral part of the clockwork that keeps us happy, healthy and functioning well. 

Happy Gut, Happy Head – What’s the Connection?

In the intricately folded tissue that lines the gastrointestinal tract are 200-600 million neurons. This is affectionately known as ‘the brain in our gut’ or ‘our second brain’. Messages are sent back and forth between our main brain and the brain in our gut, directly influencing mood and feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness, as well as memory, decision-making and learning. Our gut also stores 90-95% of the body’s serotonin, the neurochemical that is responsible for mood. 

For some time now, the importance of the gut microbiome (the collection of good and bad bacteria and in our gut) has drawn immense interest from researchers who are keen to unravel their importance to mental health.

‘When you’re stressed you increase your chance of being depressed, and that’s been known for a long, long time. So the question that we wanted to ask is, does the microbiome participate in depression?’ – Alban Gaultier PhD, the UVA Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia.

Easing depression through the gut. The research. 

New research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine has found that a diet that includes Lactobacillus, a probiotic bacteria found in yoghurt with live-cultures, could help to reverse the symptoms of depression.

The study was conducted in mice, but don’t let that take away from the importance of the findings. Mice are often used in these sort of experiments because of their various similiarities to humans, including biological and behavioural.

The researchers looked at the gut microbiome of the mice before they were stressed, and again after. There was a fascinating difference in the make-up of the gut microbiome before and after the mice were exposed to stress, with the mice showing a noticeable loss of Lactobacillus following their exposure to stress. Depression, or ‘despair behaviour’ emerged following the loss of Lactobacillus, but when the mice were given Lactobacillus with their food, they returned to almost normal.

‘A single strain of Lactobacillus is able to influence mood.’ – Alban Gaultier PhD.

How does Lactobaccilus make such a difference to mood?

The researchers explored further to try to understand how Lactobaccillus influences depression. They discovered that the levels of Lactobacillus in the gut affects a metabolite in the blood called kynurenine. This metabolite has been shown to drive depression. When Lactobacillus in the gut dropped, kynurenine increased. When kynurenine increased, and depression set in.

‘[Kynurenine is] something produced with inflammation that we know is connected to depression.’ – Ioana Marin, researcher.

Where to now?

The researchers are now intending to explore the relationship between Lactobacillus and depression in humans. Given the strength of their recent findings, they will see similar results in people as they did in the mice.

‘The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side effects when we can just play with the microbiome. It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take and fix your health – and your mood.’ – Alban Gaultier PhD.

A caution.

Further study is needed to understand the connection between Lactobacillus and depression in people. In the meantime, taking yoghurt with Lactobacillus won’t hurt, but it’s critical that if you are taking medication for depression, you don’t stop taking it without close consultation with a doctor.

The introduction of probiotics to has to happen slowly. Introducing large quantities of probiotics into your diet can lead to a worsening of symptoms because when probiotics kill off pathogens, they release toxins. It is these toxins that are likely to be already contributing to symptoms (depression, anxiety, physical illnesses), but when the release of toxins is suddenly increased (by the increase of probiotics), the symptoms may also increase. Go gently, and if you are unsure, talk to a pharmacist, doctor or naturopath for guidance.

And finally …

Depression is far too common. According to researchers, about 7 percent of people will experience a major depressive episode. This doesn’t take into account the people who have symptoms that aren’t at clinical levels, but which still cause some level of disruption to day to day life. 

Depression is so much more than sadness. It steals feelings and leaves a heavy-hearted hopelessness in its place. It can be relentless like that. The medication available at the moment can be helpful, but not for everyone. Research has shown that many lifestyle factors that are healthy for all of us, such as meditation, social connection, exercise, and gut health can have a significant impact on the symptoms of depression. Although more research is needed to confirm the effect of Lactobacillus on depression, anything that won’t cause harm, but which has the potential to improve symptoms is certainly worth trying, and could actually make an important difference. 

15 Comments

Paul

I’ve never actually thought about this or heard about it before so thanks for sharing this post. Depression is indeed a silent killer and any helpful tips is very much appreciated.

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Glenis

Wow this article just reinforces a testimonial from a lady using Modere Probiotic powder who found it lessened her symptoms of depression. Important to note that you must ease into using it however. I’ve been diagnosed with leaky gut and have also battled depression over the last few years. Eating my homemade Easiyo yoghurt is no chore. Greek natural with my own raw honey or as a treat Banoffi pie flavoured with probiotics yum yum.. I’m one happy chappy now!

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Sharon M

I’m wondering is this really is a cause and effect situation. And, also how much yogurt is needed to relieve depression and how often. I have had gut problems all my life and depression all my life and would consider anything to relieve either or both conditions.

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Karen Young

This is a great question. It’s likely that both the gut and the brain will influence each other in some ways, but it seems the influence of the gut on the brain is a significant one. The longest pair of nerves exiting the brain is called the vagus (it’s one pair of 12 pairs of nerves that run from the brain). The vagus nerve runs from the brainstem to the belly and touches the heart and most major organs along the way. About 90% of the fibres in the vagus, carry information from the internal organs in the chest (such as the heart) and the abdomen to the brain, not the other way around.

There is more research needed to understand the exact detail of the relationship between Lactobacillus and depression in humans, but Lactobacillus supplements are readily available in pharmacies, health foods and supermarkets.

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JenV

This has been my experience as well. Having suffered from depression my whole life, I have had relief (unmedicated) for the first time ever since we removed gluten from our diets when my son needed a gluten free diet. I have been depression and anxiety free for 5 years since we’ve started. If I accidentally eat gluten, I have about two to three days of mild anxiety or sadness. The “no-cebo effect” can not account, because every time I’ve unknowingly consumed gluten, I feel the unexplained anxious feelings, then I can trace back to the day before having eaten at restaurant or I look at a package that I thought was gluten free and found out that it wasn’t after all. It is clear enough to me, that I avoid gluten as though I were allergic (versus sensitive). I will recommend to anyone that is having unexplained or difficult to treat depression or anxiety that their gut is telling them something about what they are eating.

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Cee

I don’t do cleanses but I’ve found info that Kefir and Kombacha work. Saurkraut too. Any fermented foods or drinks help give a heather gut bacteria. Yogurt but not the regular sweetened kind. The sugar in that feeds bad bacteria.

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Blessed Unrest

I have a son who has always been different. His hyperactivity, poor impulse control, sensory seeking, mood swings, and tantrums were a constant.

I got an assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, and it was ok but the emotional lability was still a strong feature and it was causing problems at school and home.

His brother got very sick and was diagnosed with coeliac disease, and it was easier for the family to go gluten free.

Within a week the tantrums, mood swings, and emotional outbursts were gone. Different kid. Teachers were amazed. My son could feel the difference within himself. He says that gluten made him angry.

He tested negative for coeliac disease.

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Karen Young

The influence of diet on mental health is huge. We are learning more and more about the detail of the mental health/ gut health connection, but there is so much we still don’t know about the effect of diet on mood and mental health, but the effect is huge. I’ve heard of a number of other people who have an intolerance to gluten but tested negative for coeliac. What a difference you have made to your son by discovering the relationship between gluten and his moods.

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Cathy

I am a total convert to probiotics. It’s makes all the difference in the world in my mood.
There 5 things changed my life by settling my tummy and depression ( and IBS) along with the probiotic taken with meal. Daily Fish Oil capsules ( store in freezer and you don’t get any fish taste); essential digestive enzymes ( I got Essentialzyme from Young Living) and “Comfortone” also from Young Living) and Calcium 1000 mgs and multivitamin. I get chewy ones to eliminate nausea I got from other ones. I enjoy but limit sugar, coffee one cup only; bread; and cheese. I eat slowly and with mindfulness.
Meditation essential as well to reduce stress.

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Peggy

Is the bacteria clearly noted (and required to be noted) on yoghurt packaging? Just wondering how to know if one yoghurt may have it while another does not.

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Leoni

I make my own yogurt with Easiyo and its easy, ultra fresh and full of these bacteria.

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Patty

Peggy, it will be on the package somewhere if the yogurt has this. Some don’t so look carefully.

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Sharon H.

I have had my own horrible experience with my intestinal flora being disrupted. I was put on Amoxicillin for ten days. By day seven, bouncing off the walls hardly describes how I felt. On that day, suicidal ideation was taking over. My husband said to stop the drug even with just three days left and sure enough my mental state improved.

Any professional I mentioned this to would not believe that the antibiotic could cause this. Finally my psychiatrist had the answer–saying how our mental states are very dependent on our guts working properly and that the antibiotic disrupted this function. He said that it was affecting the serotonin balance. So I can personally vouch to the veracity of this article and learned the hard way. I also discovered similar serious mental disruptions on different forums from this drug. It was very scary.

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Karen Young

Sharon this sounds so scary for you. Your symptoms make a lot of sense and I’m so pleased you were able to find someone who was able to make sense of what you were going through. There is still so much we need to know, but without a doubt our mood and mental health and so connected to what is happening in our gut. Thank you for sharing your story.

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Kelly

Interesting!!! Is this why so many people do a ‘cleanse’? Could be! About 2 months ago a good friend was telling me about a body/liver cleanse. And last week I was talking with a co-worker about a cleanse on the bacteria most everyone has. I’m seriously looking into this to be ‘healthier’ which could eliminate potential disease risks.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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