Person holding hands in heart shape over bellyYou’ve heard phrases like “you are what you eat” or “feel good from the inside out.” These phrases imply a connection between your gut and your overall sense of well-being. But is any of that rooted in fact? Can your gut activity influence your mental status? Can it change how you feel beyond a physical level?

As it turns out, yes, it can. 

Is There a Gut-Brain Connection?

The gut, metaphorically called the “second brain,” is a complex ecosystem of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. This community of microorganisms is known as the microbiome, an environment that influences not just your digestive processes but your mental well-being, too.

Your microbiome plays an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of some of your most important physiological functions, including metabolism and immune responses. Emerging research has also highlighted this microbiome’s involvement in mental and emotional states. The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network between the gut and the central nervous system, and it’s how your microbiome communicates with your brain. This communication involves the release of neurotransmitters, hormones, and immune system signals. Knowing that this connection exists, evidence suggests that disruptions in your microbiome may contribute to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Exploring The Gut-Brain Connection

White bowl with veggies and quinoaMicrobes in the gut can synthesize neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These neurotransmitters play crucial roles in regulating mood, emotion, and cognition. Imbalances associated with these neurotransmitters are associated mental health disorders like depression.

With this in mind, it makes sense that the state of your microbiome can influence the production and availability of these neurotransmitters, potentially impacting your mental health. Additionally, your microbiome plays a role in regulating your immune system, and emerging research suggests that immune system activation and inflammation may contribute to the development of mood disorders.


How to Support Your Gut on the Path towards Healing Depression

One of the best options for depression is to seek additional support from a licensed and trained mental health professional. And as always, I advise that you consult with your medical care provider to rule out any medical conditions which may contribute to your mental health symptoms and for guidance on caring for your body, including your gut, for optimal health. That being said, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to start healing from your gut. You can do this by making some changes to your diet and the types of foods that you’re consuming.

The Power of Plants

Plant-based diets can help promote GABA. This is the neurotransmitter that helps prevent over-excitability of the nervous system and promotes a sense of relaxation. Eating plant-based means focusing on consuming foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Man wearing blue shirt and tie holding jacket and newspaperPrebiotics help to grow good forms of bacteria in your gut through plant fibers. Some examples of foods that contain prebiotics are cabbage, garlic, or onions. Probiotics are also extremely beneficial to your gut health. These are live microorganisms that are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh. You can also find both prebiotics and probiotics in the form of vitamins and supplements to make it a little easier to consume if you have trouble fitting these foods into your diet in adequate amounts.

Seek Additional Support

There is in fact a gut-brain connection. While there are many different causes of depression with different factors at play, your microbiome may be one of those factors. If you or a loved one is experiencing signs or symptoms of depression, seek additional support as soon as you can.

While there are lifestyle changes you can make to potentially reduce some of those signs and symptoms, seeking professional help is an important support mechanism for healing. Find out more about depression counseling here. Reach out to me today to learn more about how you can move forward in your life again when you’re struggling with depression.