New research on mental health disorders gets published every month. It allows us to learn more about common conditions, what causes them, and how they can be treated. Some of the most compelling research is on depression, which has led to a number of valuable scientific breakthroughs in recent years.
Today, we have a better understanding of the role that neurotransmitters—like serotonin and endorphins—play in mental health disorders. We know that exercise has real clinical benefits for people who suffer from depression. Most recently, mental health researchers found a strong connection between gut health and depression.
The Link Between Gut Health and Depression
Multiple studies have shown that gut health has a direct impact on brain function, and vice versa. When someone has poor intestinal health, their gut can communicate with the brain and cause distress, like depression and anxiety. Similarly, the brain can send signals to the gut and cause gastrointestinal issues. The gut and the brain are connected, and one can impact the function of the other.
Researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium studied 1,054 people to determine the correlation between depression and gut health. Of the sample group, 173 people had either received a depression diagnosis or scored poorly on a quality of life survey. Those 173 subjects had their gut microbiomes compared with other participants who did not have depression or a poor quality of life.
The findings showed that two types of microbes—Coprococcus and Dialister—were absent from the microbiomes of the people who had depression. Those microbes were present in subjects who were not depressed and had a high quality of life. The researcher’s conclusions did not change based on age, gender, or antidepressant usage among the depressed subjects.
During these studies, researchers also noticed that people with depression had an increase in bacteria involved in Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. This finding supports what health professionals have known for decades, which is that depression is largely caused by low-grade inflammation in the body.
You might not be surprised to learn that the gut and the brain are linked. If you’ve ever had butterflies in your stomach when you’re excited or felt nauseated when you’re anxious, that is the brain and gut working simultaneously. When you experience emotional situations, the brain can send a message to the gut, which triggers different reactions.
6 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Gut
Maintaining a healthy gut is one of the most effective ways to reduce symptoms of depression, and lower your likelihood of developing depression in the first place. There are a number of ways you can maintain good gut health by making simple lifestyle changes. Here are some ideas:
- Take a probiotic
Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria that help balance your gut. They work by cleaning bad bacteria out of your gut, so good bacteria can thrive. You can find probiotic supplements at most pharmacies and natural food stores. You can also eat fermented foods to get more probiotics in your diet naturally. Examples of probiotic foods include sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir, and fermented vegetables.
Not only is stress harmful to your mental health, but it can also have a negative impact on your gut health. Even stress that is short-lived can throw off your gut’s delicate bacterial balance. If you find yourself dealing with frequent stress, find ways to relax and unwind. Meditation, acupuncture, and deep breathing exercises are good ways to reduce stress and calm down a racing mind.
Multiple studies have shown that exercise is a great way to reduce depressive symptoms. But it’s also essential for maintaining a healthy gut. In fact, one study determined that athletes had a wider variety of healthy gut flora than their nonathletic counterparts. Additionally, people who are overweight often struggle more with gut health. Because of that, exercise can help overweight people lose weight and improve their gut health.
- Prioritize sleep
Sleep is vital for mental health, gut health, and good physical health in general. Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep for your body, which can differ between people based on their age, activity level, etc. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, where you fall asleep and wake up around the same time every day. To make sure you sleep through the night, find ways to relax before bed, and avoid screens.
- Avoid antibiotics
Antibiotics are known to mess with gut health, especially when taken over a long period of time. If you have an infection and your doctor recommends an antibiotic, see if there are alternative options you can try first. Some research suggests that your gut health can remain out of balance even six months after taking a course of antibiotics.
- Eat a high-fiber diet
Fiber can’t be digested by your body, but it can be digested by bacteria in your gut, which helps them grow. Foods rich in fiber include beans, legumes, whole grains, broccoli, raspberries, and apples. Many fruits and vegetables contain fiber, so focus on filling your plate with whole foods, and keep processed and packaged foods to a minimum for optimal gut health.
Alternative Treatment for Depression
For many people, improving their gut health will also reduce their depressive symptoms. However, if you suffer from depression that hasn’t responded well to improved gut health, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy might be a good option to try.
TMS therapy uses electromagnetic waves to stimulate parts of the brain that are less active in people with depression. It’s a non-invasive procedure that takes less than 20 minutes per session and is done on an outpatient basis. After six weeks of continuous TMS therapy, many clients say that the majority of their depressive symptoms are gone.
If you’re interested in learning more about TMS therapy at Pulse, you can contact our team at (301) 846-8460.