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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

Reply

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Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
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Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens

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