The Brain-Gut Connection and Depression
Hi Everyone! Everyone gets sad (and depending on what season it is, they get S.A.D.), which mimics depression for a brief period. But that is the difference between sadness, S.A.D, and depression. Depression doesn’t have interludes of comfort and joy. It sticks around. It’s a whole different kettle of fish.
I know that depression is multifactorial, but I want to offer some insight into how the brain-gut connection can assist with alleviating depression. By understanding it more, you will see how it makes sense.
It’s not just another ‘self-help’ exercise suggestion that doesn’t feel like help when you are depressed. It’s evidence-based and backed by science.
So, this is for you and everyone with depression. In this article, I will explain how your gut influences your brain and how your brain influences your gut.
What Is the Brain-Gut Connection?
Your gut (gastrointestinal tract) has much to do with depression because your gut is connected to your brain.
So, basically, what is going on in the gut affects the brain, and likewise, what is going on in the brain affects the gut.
This brain-gut axis influences major mental disorders, depression, and anxiety.
In brief detail, the gut-brain axis links the enteric (controls gastrointestinal behavior) and central nervous systems (the body’s processing center – movement, thinking, hearing, seeing, tasting, speech, and awareness – and comprises the brain and spinal cord) with the gut.
The importance extends to include metabolic (metabolism/catabolism: the buildup and breakdown of substances), endocrine (any organs that produce hormones) and humoral and immune communication (responses that allow the body to protect itself against pathogens), and the vagus nerve, too.
In a little more detail:
The autonomic nervous system is a component of the peripheral nervous system. It regulates processes like digestion, mood, respiration, sexual arousal, heart rate, blood pressure, and any involuntary function within the body. It has three divisions called: sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric.
So, the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (which describes the interaction between the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the adrenal glands), along with the nerves within the gastrointestinal tract from the enteric system – all link the gut to the brain!
This allows the brain to influence intestinal activities and the gut to affect mental health.
Any alterations in this network involve complex interactions across the organs by nerves (vagus nerve) and systemic circulation pathways, which alters homeostasis in the body.
Oh, and to note, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis pathway is the body’s response to stress that produces cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol also impairs gut motility and enzyme secretion.
It is all so connected!
How Does the Vagus Nerve Affect Depression?
You have heard me talk about the vagus nerve and its involvement in gut health, back pain, and depression, and this is a basic explanation.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and runs through several regions in the body and connects the brainstem to digestive organs.
They are the primary nerves of your parasympathetic system. As mentioned above, they are involved in digestion, respiration, etc.
Fibers of the vagus nerve are connected to the gut lining cells, making the brain-gut connection.
Vagus nerve fibers use the gut lining cells to collect information from gut activities and then transfer it to the brain.
Your gut is basically letting your brain know what is going on.
This is how the vagus nerve is involved in gut motility, the movement of food through the mouth, the digestive process, etc.
It lets your brain know when you are hungry, etc. (It’s the pathway for Ghrelin and Leptin, hunger regulation hormones).
When gut bacteria break down food particles, they produce metabolites like butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that the vagus nerve can sense.
The vagus nerve transmits this information to the brain, which regulates digestive processes.
The vagus nerve will also communicate with the brain to release anti-inflammatory substances in response to any inflammation in the gut and is also involved in controlling the gut lining.
Stress can stop the vagus nerve from performing these tasks. When this happens, the vagus nerve cannot release anti-inflammatory molecules to calm the inflammation, so gut bacteria suffer.
What also happens is that it can’t control the permeability of the stomach lining.
A damaged and malfunctioning intestinal lining leads to more changes in gut bacteria (causing dysbiosis) and allows food and toxins to penetrate the tissues beneath it. This leads to leaky gut syndrome.
It can be so painful, and many symptoms can display themselves when you have a leaky gut!
In the Personalized Advice for Depression, you will learn more about how to stimulate your vagus nerve.
What Is the Role of Gut Microbiota?
Your gut is home to an array of micro-organisms (100 trillion) consisting of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. These are called microbiota and are paramount to the state of our health.
Your microbiota is made up of your genes, how you live, what you eat and drink, what you are exposed to, and other lifestyle factors like toxins, stress, sickness, medication, and so on.
It is this that aids digestion and absorption of food. It also defends the gut from pathogens, and it regulates immune homeostasis.
Gut microbiota is also involved in the synthesis of vitamins that are essential for neuronal function. Deficiencies lead to cognitive impairment and depression!
This is more evidence of why your gut microbiota plays a significant part in your mental health.
Certain foods, inflammatory ingredients, medication, drugs, pesticides, stress, and lifestyle choices can all lead to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut microbiota.
The role of gut microbiota cannot be underestimated since if your gut is in dysbiosis, inflammatory diseases, and immune dysregulations are more likely to occur.
70%-80% of immune cells reside in the gut, you see. This is why autoimmune disorders often accompany depression, for instance.
In essence, it is a knock-on effect since inflammatory diseases change the diversity and quantity of bacteria.
Does Gut Microbiota Affect Mental Health?
Also, if your gut microbiota is compromised, then important mood-regulating neurotransmitters produced in the gut will not be produced.
This could explain why people feel moody and irritable and cannot pinpoint why.
So, you can already see that good gut health is paramount to good mental health.
Microbiota fluctuations are linked to changes in the mental and emotional centers of the brain.
Indeed, 60% of neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation are produced in a healthy gut. I have explained that this affects our mental well-being (and more) in the article: Do You Often Feel Like Crying?
It is noted that microbiota in the gut and its related metabolic disturbance is characterized in patients with depression.
Also, gut microbiota composition causes the degradation of the colonic mucus barrier. This causes microbiota encroachment, leading to disease susceptibility and chronic inflammation.
There is so much involved, and it is vital to keep inflammation down!
Have you read Reduce Chronic Inflammation for a Healthy Mind?
Does the Immune System Affect Mental Health?
Yes, the immune system and depression are linked. Have a read of The Benefits of Sun Exposure.
Keeping the immune healthy plays an integral part in depression because if it cannot respond to pathogens and other environmental triggers, it can lead to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
What happens then is that the gastrointestinal tract’s inflammation leads to neuroinflammation. This is an inflammatory response within the brain or spinal cord.
How Is Neuroinflammation Linked With Depression?
What happens in neuroinflammation is that the proinflammatory cytokines (immunomodulating agents) increase.
This then activates the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, increasing resistance to glucocorticoids (hormones that fight inflammation and work with the immune system, and so on).
This subsequently affects serotonin (mood, emotions, appetite, sleep, digestion) synthesis and metabolism. It affects neuronal apoptosis (brain cell death), neurogenesis (creation of new brain cells in adult brains), and neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change, reorganize and form new connections, as in learning).
This is how neuroinflammation is involved with depression.
As you can see, so much is involved in how the gut affects the brain (and I have barely got into it) and why we have to have good gut health.
What is also happening is that when there is chronic inflammation present in the body, other inflammatory conditions arise. Digestive issues, autoimmune conditions, IBD, chronic pain, obesity, diabetes, psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions – are all common health issues with depression.
Long COVID is an inflammatory condition. This is why many people have depression as well as Long COVID. Again, Long COVID is another condition that you can find Personalized Advice for in the Membership section. Have you read: Long COVID Migraines?
What Is a Good Diet for Depression?
Addressing the body holistically is essential regarding mental health. A diet isn’t enough because, as I mentioned earlier, it is multifactorial. A lifestyle intervention for depression is recommended.
I know it can be intensely complex for individuals with depression, and I am not trivializing it because there could be reasons that are out of your control.
The best anti-inflammatory lifestyle may not remove all factors contributing to your depression, but it will treat depression symptoms and conditions at the source. This means changing poor, unbalanced microbiota and systemic inflammation.
Eating good mood-lifting recipes is a given on this anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Here are some examples for you: Asparagus and Crab Salad, Paleo Double Chocolate Chip Cookies, Almond Chia Pots, & Meditteranean Roast Chicken & Vegetables
How to Stop Being Depressed Without Medication
Make sure you read: Come Off Antidepressants. Don’t ever come off antidepressants abruptly. This is written off the back of watching a BBC documentary about why doctors are advised not to prescribe them in the majority of cases.
A Primary Care Professor, Tony Kendrick, stated: “Most people get better doing something else for a few months, and they won’t get problems further down the line when they want to come off them.” They now teach medical students to recommend a diet and lifestyle intervention for depression instead.
Guide to Treating Depression By Yourself
Everything you need is on this anti-inflammatory lifestyle platform when you become a member. There is a Mental Wellness section in the Lifestyle Guide, a Personalized Advice section on Depression & Anxiety and Masterclasses on Mental Wellness: the basics & Mental Wellness: advanced!
It will help you interrupt the depression cycle by controlling what contributes to your depression. It will help you gain the vigor and mental capacity needed to deal with the other factors contributing to depression that you can’t control. Trust me! Its effects are amazing.
I advise embarking on this lifestyle intervention for depression, and you will be:
- *supported by me and my team, including other qualified nutritionists (we are contactable), and have access to the tools that will help reduce your depression every single day, all year long!
- *eating gut-microbiota-rich, nutritious mental health food (which includes the essential vitamins for neuronal function) at the right time
- *reducing inflammation
- *healing your gut lining, allowing for essential nutrient absorption
- *addressing gut dysbiosis and immune dysregulation
- *promoting the production of serotonin and dopamine
- *doing the correct movements that also affect the vagus nerve as well as reduce inflammation
- *reducing body aches with food, movements, and daily practices
- *keeping stress down with neuroplasticity exercises (affecting the vagus nerve and calming down the central nervous system, reducing cortisol, etc.).
- *detoxifying the liver
- *reprogramming destructive sleep patterns
- *reducing conditions that run alongside depression, like autoimmune conditions, bowel conditions, digestive issues, chronic pain, skin conditions, anxiety, and so on
- *educated with all specialized advice for an array of issues that are mental, physical, and emotional
- *part of a motivational, supportive community
A Lifestyle To Compliment Therapy
I hope that you are having therapy that is working out well. This lifestyle for depression intervention will complement your treatment if this is the case. Follow the above comprehensive advice on how to treat depression naturally. It will support you tremendously on how to look after yourself with depression.
Certainly, run it by your therapist. Health professionals around the world are prescribing this anti-inflammatory lifestyle to their patients with depression and other chronic inflammation conditions.
I firmly believe in blending allopathic and holistic treatment for all inflammatory conditions, hence the Health Board for Chronic Inflammation.
Chances are if you have depression, your medication has stopped working, or you could have treatment-resistant depression. This lifestyle for mental health treats conditions at systemic levels and doesn’t just mask the symptoms.
Don’t forget to watch the Masterclass on Emotional Hygiene, too. Do explore the Videos and listen to the Podcasts. Many of my guests have faced emotionally difficult times. Their stories may resonate with you.
If there is depression running in your family, you reduce the gene expression of those weaker genes by keeping inflammation at bay.
Chronic inflammation triggers epigenetics, which could be, in your case, depression.
Thousands of studies have been conducted on the brain-gut axis since it was first coined in the 1960s, with positive conclusions about microbiota’s power in treating mental disorders.
What Is the Key to Optimizing Mental Health?
So, this is why you need to know more about the brain-gut connection if you have mental health issues. Knowledge is power!
By working on the gut and the mind simultaneously, which is the key to optimizing mental health, you will start noticing days with comfort and joy in them.
As the bright mood spots increase daily and then more regularly, you realize that you have some joie de vivre back! And with certainty, it continues.
Wishing everyone a day that has brightness in it! Do share with anyone you know who might be struggling with their mental health. It could very well be the lifestyle intervention for depression that they need.
You/they may want to read the testimonials on depression and mental health. Also, the article about our member’s depression and obesity remission success was in The Daily Express.
I often advise on mental health issues and other chronic inflammation conditions in my Insta reels. You can follow me here.
With love and good health!