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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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