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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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