Probiotics Boost Gut Health and Fight Depression

Rachel Morrell

Probiotics Boost Gut Health and Fight Depression

Seasonal depression can cause the winter blues, but probiotics can help manage anxiety, boost mood and improve ability to handle stress.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that follows a cyclical pattern with the seasons. SAD tends to be more common among younger people, and women are more likely to be affected than men. Typical symptoms of SAD include:

  • Low energy
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling sluggish, hopeless, guilty or worthless
  • Pervasive depression on most days between late fall/early winter and late spring/early summer
  • Changes in weight or appetite

Gut Health and Mood

If you have SAD (or just a bad case of the winter blues), the problem may lie in your gut and not your brain. New studies indicate gut microbes can reduce symptoms of seasonal depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. These tiny organisms line the intestines and are part of an ecosystem called the enteric nervous system, or second brain. In addition to these bacterial microbes, the enteric nervous system is also home to 100 million nerve cells called neurons.

Besides controlling digestion, the nerves in the enteric nervous system seem to experience sensations that translate to feelings of nervousness, stress or excitement. Up to 90 percent of neurons in the enteric nervous system are responsible for sending messages to the brain, including emotional impulses that influence mood. And gut microbes actually play a role in this communication process.

Digestive Benefits of Probiotics

After decades of research, scientists are confirming what we’ve always known: “gut feelings” are real. Improving your gut health might improve your mood. This is good news for the 16 million Americans who are clinically depressed and 40 million Americans who suffer from anxiety disorders.

One way to enhance your emotional wellbeing is to take probiotics, live bacteria and yeast that benefit the digestive system. You can take probiotics as a supplement, but they are most potent when you ingest them in cultured or fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut or miso. When beneficial bacteria colonize in your gut, they crowd out the troublesome strains and begin to:

  • strengthen the gut wall
  • increase nutrient absorption
  • fortify immune responses

Feed Probiotics with Prebiotics

To ensure the colonies of ingested probiotics continue to flourish in your gut, you need to nourish them. Prebiotics are high-fiber foods that help beneficial bacteria thrive in the microbiome. Most plants and grains are probiotics, so eat lots of bananas, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, apples, brown rice, quinoa and nuts to feed the good microbes in your digestive tract. Drink plenty of water and avoid processed food, refined sugars and GMOs.

Call a Gastroenterologist

Your gut health is essential for physical and mental wellness. A healthy colon also helps prevent colon cancer, the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Visit a gastroenterologist for a full evaluation of your digestive health. Our fellowship-trained GI doctors are skilled in treating digestive disorders and are accepting new patients. Click here for a list of gastroenterologists and GI treatment centers in your area.   

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