A Healthy Gut is Vital for a Happy Mood

June 11, 2018 | Wellness Resources

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A Healthy Gut is Vital for a Happy Mood
There has been a shift in the paradigm of depression research and treatment. The old way of thinking was to address neurotransmitter imbalances in serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The traditional medical treatment is SSRIs (Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil), MAOs, or Tricylcic antidepressants. Unfortunately, only one to two out of ten patients report improved symptoms beyond the placebo group with these medications. Scientists now know that there is so much more to the puzzle of depression than just neurotransmitter balance in the brain.

Your Brain is on Fire

Your body typically recognizes inflammation as pain, but brain inflammation can be hard to identify since we do not have pain receptors in the brain. Depression is one major sign that your brain is on fire with too much inflammation.

The traditional medical approach fails to address underlying brain inflammation. In fact, studies show antidepressants are less effective with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin, which suggests that antidepressants actually increase brain inflammation. Other studies support the theory that depression is a symptom of chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process in the body, but when inflammation is chronic and ongoing, depressive symptoms can get locked in.

How Bugs Influence Mood

One of the very best ways to calm inflammation in the brain is by reducing inflammation in the gut. This is because the brain and the gut communicate with one another via an information highway referred to as the gut-brain axis. If you have ever had a case of the butterflies from being in an anxious situation or have lost your appetite when nervous, you have experienced communication between your brain and gut first-hand. Surprising research is showing the comunication is back-and-forth: the bacteria in your gut can talk to your brain via the vagus nerve, a long nerve that acts like a telephone wire between the gut and brain. That means if your gut health is out of balance, it can trigger inflammation in the brain.

There are trillions of bacteria in your gut that help protect you from potential threats in our environment. If the gut bacteria sense a potential threat has entered the body (i.e. an allergen, toxin, or an infection from an unfriendly bacteria), they launch a red alert signal via the vagus nerve in the form of inflammation to let the brain know. That means, if the bacteria in your belly are happy, then you are happy. If not, then you have some work to do.

Repairing Your Gut

There are many possible drivers of gut inflammation that could lead to depressive symptoms. One common cause of gut inflammation is dysbiosis, an imbalance of the beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in the gut. It is characterized by having too many bad bugs and not enough good bugs than what the body can handle.

Another possible cause of brain inflammation is having a leaky gut. Leaky Gut Syndrome is a very real condition that doctors are only just beginning to acknowledge, but scientists have decades of research showing that a leaky gut is associated with digestive issues, inflammation throughout the body, and depressive symptoms.

Your digestive tract lining has tiny junctions that act like doors to selectively allow nutrient absorption but keep out potentially harmful substances. If you have a leaky gut, the doors are left open and particles from the digestive tract that wouldn't normally be allowed to enter the bloodstream can sneak in. The presence of foreign particles prompts the immune system to send out alarm signals to deal with the perceived invader. This leads to chronic, low-grade inflammation throughout the body. If inflammation settles into the brain, over time depressive symptoms can develop.

Nutritional Support

Diet plays an essential role in influencing our gut health. Every time we eat or drink we influence the bacteria in our gut for better or worse. The Standard American Diet (SAD) that is highly processed, laden with pesticides, nutrient-poor, and high in sugar provokes an inflammatory war in the body. Plus, many people have developed food allergies or sensitivities related to dysbiosis and a leaky gut. Gluten, dairy, eggs and soy are common allergens that are plentiful in the average American’s diet.

To begin healing your gut, start by eating an organic diet that is free of common allergens and sugar, plus high in antioxidants and fiber from whole foods. Eat more foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt contain live beneficial bacteria. Be mindful to choose options without sugar to avoid feeding bad bugs.

To feed the beneficial bugs of the gut and foster their growth, increase fiber intake from various fruits, vegetables, raw seeds and nuts, beans, and peas. Foods that are especially high in prebiotic fiber include artichokes, asparagus, green bananas, burdock root, chicory, dandelion greens, eggplant, garlic, raw honey, artichokes, leeks, onions, and legumes. If your gut really needs work, add in prebiotic fiber supplements like psyllium, arabinogalactan, oat bran, FOS and live probiotic strains.

For those with years of digestive damage, adding fiber and probiotics might not be enough to fully heal. An overgrowth of yeast/candida, non-beneficial bacteria, or parasites may be present and contribute to dysbiosis. The toxic byproducts released by the bad bugs called lipopolysaccharides/LPS injure the lining of the digestive tract and lead to digestive inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. Use natural antibacterial and anti-fungal options like oregano oil, noni, lactoferrin, undecylenic acid/caprylic acid and monolaurin to reduce unfriendly inhabitants in the gut without killing off friendly flora like medical antibiotics do.

Research highlights a number of other nutrients that support a healthy gut lining and reduce a leaky gut. These include glutamine, N-acetyl-d-glucosamine (NAG), vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc, boswellia, NAC, omega-3 fish oil, plant based enzymes, and curcumin.

Curcumin, the active component in the spice turmeric, deserves special mention because it has been studied for its anti-inflammatory effects in the gut and brain and found to have powerful anti-depressant benefits. Human studies have found that supplemental curcumin was as effective as Prozac at improving symptoms of depression without the side effects. By reducing inflammation in the brain and nerves, curcumin enhances the flow of neurotransmitters to improve mood.

The climbing rates of suicide in high-profile celebrities and American teens despite increased mental health awareness and interventions are proof that our modern diet, stressful lifestyles, and polluted world are having a negative effect on our minds. It is clear something more needs to be done. It takes time to truly heal the gut. For minor problems, it may take months of consistent support and strict dietary changes. For long-standing concerns, it may take up to a year or longer. What has your gut been telling your brain lately? Begin on the path of healing today.

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