When people talk about emotions, they often use references to the gut. A gut feeling, butterflies in my stomach, or having ‘the guts’ to do something. You may have even been called a misery guts at some point. Well, there may be more to these references than it seems…
With the ongoing discovery of the exceptionally large and diverse amount of bacteria that we share our lives (and ourselves) with, it has been stated that we are ‘more bacteria than we are human’. Sounds quite scary, but actually, human life is inseparable from the trillions of bacterial cells that we walk around with each day. Without them, and the many functions they carry out, we probably wouldn’t survive.
It has become apparent over the last few decades of research that maintaining a healthy diversity and balance of these bacteria that make up ‘the human gut microbiome’, is crucially important for human health. The advent of probiotic supplements has been a response to the knowledge that we can, in many ways, improve the health of this system. Moreover, recent research is focusing on the importance of using specific strains of probiotic bacteria to treat specific conditions.
As alluded to in the title of this article, depression is one of the conditions that has been shown to respond favourably to probiotic therapy. This makes sense in light of the well-established link between the gut and the brain, meaning that treating the gut in conditions such as depression should be considered part of a holistic approach.
A 2016 research paper reviewed the results of five studies that overall, showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms after the use of various probiotics, leading the authors to conclude that the potential for probiotics to reduce the incidence of depression is promising.
If you’re suffering from low mood or mild anxiety, you may want to consider some additional herbs and nutrients, which can get to work while you give your microbiota a helping hand with probiotics:
- St. John’s Wort
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
- Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA
- B vitamins
Finally, it almost goes without saying that a healthy diet, high in pro- and prebiotic foods (to both provide your gut with good bacteria, and feed the good ones that already reside there) is non-negotiable when it comes to optimising mental health. A separate study to the one mentioned above, which looked at the eating habits of over 1000 women, found that depressive disorders were more common amongst the women eating a ‘standard Western diet’, than in those eating a more ‘traditional’ diet containing higher proportions of vegetables, whole-grains, fish and meat, rather than processed food. Any vegetables and fruit that have bright colours or strong pigments like berries, leafy greens, capsicum, squash, beetroot, carrots, black beans, red quinoa and purple potatoes, as well as cacao, almonds, and green tea, are all great examples of foods that your friendly gut bacteria love. So, eat the rainbow, supplement with some evidence-based probiotics if needed, and you’ll be well on your way to a good gut feeling once again!