Study Shows Gut Bacteria Can Make or Break Depression
- Published on: 12 October, 2016
- Last update: 07 August, 2017
A topic close to my heart is depression – the natural options that ease the pain, and how the mind relates to the gut. I care because A) it’s a topic I get questions on all the time (by 2020 mental health disorders will be a greater cause of disability than all physical disease) and B) it’s something I’ve dealt with all my life. I’ve blogged about my personal experience and what I’ve done to overcome it in the past, but I know it rears its ugly head when you least expect it. There is never one cause or answer for everyone, which is why I’m always looking at the research. This new study about gut bacteria was one I knew you guys would want to hear!
The “forced swimming test” is one of the most revealing experiments used in research on depression and motivation. A mouse is placed in a container of water that is too deep for its feet to reach the bottom. This forces it to swim around trying in vain to get to dry land. The question is: how long will it keep swimming in pursuit of survival? This mirror an important question for mankind’s existence: how intensely are we prepared to strive for a goal that we believe exists? In humans, this might be something concrete like high school graduation. Or maybe more abstract, like ‘satisfaction’ or ‘happiness.’
Mice with depressive tendencies do not swim for long; they simply freeze awaiting their fate. Inhibitory signals are sent more readily in their brains than motivational impulses. These mice also show a stronger reaction to stress.
New antidepressants can be easily tested on these mice. If they swim for longer after receiving the medication, it is an indication that the substance is effective.
Irish scientists took this one step further. Instead of antidepressants, they fed half their depressed mice with Lactobacillus Rhamnosus JB1; a beneficial probiotic strain often low or absent in an imbalanced gut.
The mice with the lactobacillus not only swam longer with more motivation, but their blood had fewer stress hormones.
Furthermore, these mice performed better in memory and learning tests than their non-supplemented counterparts.
Probiotics are the first line of defense in our gut, which is inextricably connected to the brain. They essentially hold residence in spaces that could be taken over by pathogenic bacteria. When a pathogen like E. Coli shows up, there’s simply no room for it to take hold. For those who have gut dysbiosis or imbalance (which is incredibly common thanks to pesticides, GMO crops & antibiotics), the gut can easily become inflamed and colonized with harmful strains. That inflammation has been shown to cause direct activity in emotional centers of the brain associated with unpleasant feelings. On top of that, probiotics allow us to process and extract mood-supporting nutrients from food, and support the production of vital neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
This is so important because it reminds us of one crucial truth: if you are suffering with depression, it is NOT your fault. There are so many things going on that science is only beginning to discover, and our guts are heavily involved. None of us choose to experience gut dysbosis; and the modification of this precious bacteria is often beyond our control, even beginning with a c-section birth or formula vs. breast feeding.
The good news is, we are in control starting now. More and more advanced probiotics are hitting the markets, and knowledge on the importance of fermented foods is growing. There are so ways you can support your gut in your own kitchen: homemade sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and kefir. Above all, your behavior & thought changes can improve your gut in ways science can’t yet explain. Meditation and stress relief techniques can somehow support the growth of good strains and suppress the bad ones. One day, meal, and positive decision at a time is the way to heal our guts for good.