I have clinical depression, and I am trying everything under the sun to improve my mental health. Are there foods that could help me?
I have heard a lot about how depression might be linked to the gut, and I would love to learn more.
I provide personalized one-on-one coaching to help clients achieve improved gut health and optimal well-being through sustainable lifestyle changes.
You're right! Mental health and gut health are inextricably linked. One of the best ways to support both mental and gut health is through a diet rich in a diverse combination of nutrient-dense foods. When we eat real, whole foods, we are giving our mind and body exactly what they need to function properly.
Eating real, whole foods is about simplifying our diets, going back to the basics, and giving our bodies what they are begging us for.
Here are some examples of real, whole, nutrient-dense foods:
Meat – focus on beef, poultry, turkey, lamb, pork, duck, including organ meats, especially liver, as it is the most nutrient-dense food on the planet. Pasture-raised and organic, if possible.
Fish- focus on smaller fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Wild caught, if possible.
Eggs – Free-range and organic, if possible.
Fruits – Organic, if possible.
Vegetables – Organic, if possible.
Nuts and Seeds – Organic, soaked and sprouted, if possible.
Healthy fats – ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, beef tallow. Organic and grass-fed (ghee and beef tallow), if possible.
Spices – turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, tarragon, cardamom, cumin, to name a few… there are hundreds out there!
For the first time, a population-based study has shown a link between gut bacteria and mental health, providing the strongest support to date that microbiota can influence mood, investigators note.
"The notion that microbial metabolites can interact with our brain — and thus behavior and feelings — is intriguing, but gut microbiome-brain communication has mostly been explored in animal models, with human research lagging behind," Jeroen Raes, PhD, from University of Leuven and VIB Center for Microbiology, Belgium, said in a news release.
"In our population-level study we identified several groups of bacteria that co-varied with human depression and quality of life across populations," said Raes.
The study was published online February 4 in Nature Microbiology.
Link to Depression
In analyzing data from 1054 individuals enrolled in the Flemish Gut Flora Project (FGFP), investigators found two groups of bacteria — Coprococcus and Dialister — were consistently depleted in people diagnosed with depression, regardless of antidepressant treatment.
They validated the results in an independent cohort of 1063 individuals from the Dutch LifeLines DEEP cohort and in a group of patients with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder.
They also found that Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus bacteria were consistently associated with higher quality of life indicators. Both bacteria produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that strengthens the epithelial defense barrier and reduces intestinal inflammation, and both have been reported to be depleted in association with inflammatory bowel disease and depression.
Using an analytical framework, the researchers created the first catalog of human gut bacteria that have "neuroactive" potential. Some bacteria were found to have a broad range of these functions. For example, the ability of microorganisms to produce 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, a metabolite of the human neurotransmitter dopamine, was associated with better mental quality of life.
Diet as Treatment?
Commenting on the study for Medscape Medical News, John Cryan, PhD, principal investigator, APC Microbiome Ireland, University College Cork, described the findings as exciting.
"This is a first attempt to link the composition of bacteria in the gut with depression in a large population study. The Flemish data show that there seems to be a reduction in specific bacteria that produce chemicals in depression. Another advantage is the ability to verify some of the same changes in a Dutch cohort and correlate them with quality of life measures," said Cryan.
"The next step will be to identify if the bacteria that are changed are playing a causal role in depression and whether they can be harnessed for psych biotic-based interventions for mood disorders," he added.
Janna Gordon-Elliott, MD, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York–Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, also believes the study is noteworthy.
"Everyone is talking about the gut microbiota in medicine across the board for physical medical disorders, and certainly in psychiatry it's all the buzz, but much of the work has been in animal models and a lot of it has also been theoretically based. This study seems to be a really strong step in terms of collecting more clear data from a large-scale human population," Gordon-Elliott told Medscape Medical News.
"What's interesting," she added, "is that they didn't just look at different bacteria species but at which of those species make compounds that act on the brain. These compounds could be cross-referenced as molecules or compounds that are potentially implicated in psychiatric disorders like depression and could then become targets for treatment interventions in the future, whether it be from medications that are developed or from a dietary or nutritional point of view."
The Flemish Gut Flora Project is supported by the Flemish government, Research Fund–Flanders Odysseus program, King Baudouin Foundation, VIB, Rega Institute for Medical Research, and KU Leuven. The authors, Cryan, and Gordon-Elliott have reported no relevant financial disclosures.
Nat Microbiol. Published online February 4, 2019. Abstract
There is a lot of truth to the saying "You are what you eat". The gut is responsible for so much of our health. A new study published just weeks ago (Feb 4, 2019) determined that "gut bacteria are tied to depression". Dr. Edward Bach was a doctor and bacteriologist who discovered that connection 103 years ago. He went on to develop the Bach Flower Remedies. The Bach Flower Remedies are truly remarkable at addressing depression, anxiety, and other emotional states. You should look into them. Feel free to contact me for more information about them.
Yes, absolutely! There is a huge connection between the gut and the brain!
The gut is being called "the second brain" (even though it was our first brains as we evolved) because of many things, but a big one is that it is so closely tied to our brain and communicates with it constantly. What you eat most certainly impacts your digestive tract and microbiome which will most certainly impact your brain and it's ability to make good moods for you.
What I find with my clients with mental health issues are:
- Difficulty digesting (so can't get the nutrients needed)
- Eating stressful or sensitive foods (causing inflammation in gut/brain)
- Not eating enough nutritious foods that will give the body enough nutrients
If the gut is inflamed, your brain will be inflamed. Food sensitivities will also cause mood issues for similar reasons but also if there are increased antibodies to those foods and those antibodies are finding similar structures in your brain and attacking those. This is common with gluten.
I'd suggest you try to remove the most common trouble foods for a few weeks and see if your mood lifts:
-Dairy (though we could potentially fix a dairy sensitivity)
and I'd add all grains to keep inflammation down
in the meantime eat:
- Slow cook broth (3 hour meat & bone broth) I can give you a recipe
- fermented veggies (sauerkraut, fermented pickles, kimchi)
- well cooked veggies and meats
- Lots of high quality and varied fats (butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil)
On top of this, after a few weeks, I would put you through a questionnaire to find out which amino acids might be low and have you start supplementing those while we worked on continued boosting of your digestive system so you can ABSORB your food better so your body has MORE materials to work with.
Remember that our bodies can only do for us what we give them the materials to do. So if your body isn't getting enough protein or magnesium or b vitamins, etc, it cannot make you good mood neurotransmitters!