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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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