What do bacteria have to do with depression? As it turns out, bacteria have a whole LOT to do with depression.
If you could look inside your belly, you would find your small intestines and your large intestines (colon). The small and large intestines are generally called “the gut” in most nutrition or medical articles and discussions. Inside your gut, you will find partially digested food and large amounts of bacteria. Some of the bacteria are “bad” or “pathogenic.” Hopefully, most of the bacteria are “good” or “probiotic.”
Since 2007 The Human Microbiome Project has been researching the correlation between your microbiome and your health. In 2013 they isolated several probiotic bacteria strains that are classified as “psychobiotics.” These organisms “produce a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.” In other words, this type of probiotic can help your mood and brain functioning.
You may be wondering just how taking a probiotic supplement can help your mood. Your gut is inextricably tied to your brain. The 3 main connections are your bloodstream, your lymph fluid, and your vagus nerve.
If you are having a hard time making the mental connection between gut and brain, think about it this way. Do you know when you are getting nervous about something? Maybe you have a big presentation to give at work or school, or maybe you are going to meet someone new. Where do you get that nervous feeling? In your “stomach” which is actually your small intestines. So your thought about something created a physical sensation in your gut. This is bidirectional, too. When you have the stomach flu or diarrhea, don’t you also get brain fog or foggy thinking? The gut and the brain are connected. They have a close interplay and influence each other.
Put on your “common sense” outlook and think about this---doesn’t it make sense that digestive symptoms and disorders will affect the rest of your body? If you put food into your gut and you get symptoms like gas, bloating, reflux or pain, doesn’t that mean something isn't working correctly? If something is amiss in your gut then you likely aren’t getting all the nutrients from the food you are eating. If you have too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria in your gut, you will not be able to manufacture important brain chemicals and neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, or cortisol. There are direct cause and effect relationships between your gut and mood.
The gut-brain connection is an important piece in addressing mental illness of any kind. Functional medicine doctors often refer to the gut as “your second brain.” Your gut is where you absorb all the nutrients to make your serotonin and dopamine, as well as other hormones and brain chemicals. Your gut should be loaded with good bacteria that assist in producing your neurotransmitters. This is also where 80% of your immune cells live.
Several psychobiotics look promising for people who suffer from anxiety and depression. Lactobacillus Plantarum PS128 is a strain of probiotic to look for in a supplement. It is also classified as a psychobiotic. In 2016, a study with mice showed that mice who were given Lactobacillus Plantarum strain PS128 performed better and with less anxiety. The PS128 mice had less cortisol and inflammation markers in their bloodstream. Their dopamine levels where higher and prefrontal cortex activity was better than the other mice in the study.
The 2015 study using Lactobacillus Helveticus NS8 is particularly interesting to me. This psychobiotic was compared to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). I have been on an SSRI for almost 20 years. Anytime I see a study comparing SSRIs to any other solution, I get really excited.
In this 2015 study, 2 groups of rats were exposed to 21 days of stress. One of the groups was given Lactobacillus Helveticus NS8 during the 21-day trial, while the other group was given an SSRI medication. At the end of the testing period, the rats that were given Lactobacillus Helveticus NS8 showed fewer signs of stress and anxiety when compared to the group on SSRIs. Their blood test showed lower cortisol and ACTH, and higher serotonin and BDNF than the rats on SSRIs.
Here is what that means for you and I: if we are exposed to stress (who isn’t?), we can benefit from Lactobacillus Helveticus NS8 and Lactobacillus Plantarum PS128 probiotic supplements.
For many years I really hated my guts---literally and figuratively. I literally detested my digestive system because it did not work very well. Gas, bloating, gurgling, burping, and abdominal muscle twitching were my daily companions. On bad days, I would be in the bathroom up to a dozen times. Over the span of a decade, I was diagnosed with IBS-C and then IBS-D, and finally IBD. My doctors did MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, sigmoidoscopies, and colonoscopies, just to tell me that I needed to take steroids for the rest of my life. I tried just about every diet protocol and probiotic on the market. There were only 2 probiotic brands that ever made a difference for my gut. As far as an eating program, I found what works for me based on Paleo, Primal, Carnivore, Keto, FodMaps, Dr. Gundry, and the Autoimmune Protocol.
At the same time, I was suffering from intense anxiety and major depressive disorder. I hated my guts in a figurative way. The self-loathing that accompanies depression is almost worse than the utter feeling of hopelessness that is a hallmark of depression. On top of those demons, I also struggled with fear, paranoia and an impending sense of doom. I often felt that something bad was going to happen. Every little irritation seemed like the universe was plotting my course to unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment.
I didn’t really know how to heal my depression, but I knew how to heal (or at least start to heal) my gut. So I started there. The probiotic that actually helped was Dr. Ohhira’s Essential Formula. After about a week of taking it daily, I noticed a decrease in diarrhea. That was a pretty big deal for me because I had tried dozens of other probiotic formulas. I also had a reduction in my depressive symptoms and anxiety. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics contain the psychobiotics that have been proven to ease depression and anxiety.
Looking back over the last 2 decades, I definitely see a correlation between my gut health and my mood. The healthier my gut has gotten the more stable and happy my mood has become. Probiotics, specifically psychobiotics, have definitely played a role in curing my depression.Click here to schedule your FREE Discovery Call with me!