Mental health isn’t something that we can see, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. After all, nearly 15 million American adults dealing with major depression, and almost 75% of Americans report dealing with anxiety at some time in their life.1
That means, it’s important to discuss mood issues and mental health, just like you would any other health issue – especially with your medical professional, but with friends and loved ones as well. it’s likely that someone around you is struggling. After all, with appropriate communication and treatment it is possible to treat mood disorders, including depression, and live a happy, fulfilling life.2
So what does your gut bacteria have to do with your mood? Gut microbiota can impact the body in many different ways. Some ways are obvious, like digestion. Some are more obscure, and this could include mental health. As it turns out, these two threads may actually tie together. Read on to learn about the potential link between gut bacteria and depression.
Bacteria In My Gut?
The gut microbiome is an ecosystem inside your body.3 Your microbiome first comes from your mother at birth, and evolves as you grow up. In the past, all microbes had a negative connotation. It’s now clear that certain microbes actually help us maintain our health, while others may throw off our healthy balance.4 In fact, studies have shown that gut microbiota imbalances can lead to gastrointestinal issues and even obesity.5
The Gut-Brain Connection
Science is also discovering that the microbes in the gut influence things beyond the digestive system… inducing the brain. Hormones play a key role in brain/body communication, and gut microbiota also play a role in producing those hormones, including “feel good” hormones like serotonin.6, 7 Serotonin plays a vital role in regulating mood, happiness, and anxiety. Some people who suffer from low moods may have difficulty processing and managing their levels of serotonin.8
Another interesting discovery is that the gut-brain connection is a two-way street. Gut bacteria may influence our mental health. But the mental state can also influence the gut in a sort of “feedback loop.”9 So, keeping your gut healthy may indeed help positively influence your mind’s health, and vice versa.
What, exactly, does this mean for YOUR mental health?
The jury is still out, because most of the major studies on the gut-brain axis have used animals as subjects, rather than human being. That said, scientists are optimistic based on these trials, so stay tuned.
Practices for your Mental and Physical Health
So how do you keep your mind – and gut – healthy?
Well, one method is exercise. One study focused on showed getting regular exercise led to important changes in the microbiome. These changes helped support both brain health and a healthy metabolism.10 Science has long linked exercise with general mental health support.
Another practice that may benefit the mind and gut is meditation.
Meditation has been the subject of many studies. The bulk of these link it to psychological and cognitive benefits.11
But in recent years, studies have also linked meditation with gut health. One study, for example, showed that meditation may lead to reduced symptoms of several gastrointestinal disorders.12
Psychotherapy for your gut?
Could be! Studies are starting to show that there’s a connection between gut health and psychotherapy. One study, for example, showed that psychotherapy has applications in easing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.13
While these studies did not focus on microbes specifically, they do lend credence to the idea of the “feedback loop” between the brain and gut.
Gut Bacteria And Mental Health: In Review
When it comes to mental health, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. This makes the findings about gut microbiota so interesting.
Probiotics will not replace a therapist. They should not be taken instead of prescribed medication. Consult your medical professionals before starting a new routine, especially if struggling with mental health issues. If you are suffering from a mental health crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone immediately.
That said, there is a clear relationship between the gut and brain. As science is finding, practices that support one often support the other. The body is proving to be more interconnected than many can imagine.
When it comes to probiotics and mental health, there may be potential. Probiotics could be used in combination with therapy and lifestyle changes to help benefit good mental health. The research into this area is ongoing. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to incorporate every resource at your disposal.
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