We have often, as a society, had an accepting approach to mental health. Mental health issues such as depression are ever-increasing, with a significant emotional and financial burden on individuals and the whole of society.
Check out this comment from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007)
‘Of the 16 million Australians aged 16-85 years, almost half (45% or 7.3 million) had a lifetime mental disorder, ie a mental disorder at some point in their life.’
That’s half of us! Today I would like to challenge you that there is something we can do about this and that you don’t have to accept it as just something that happens to us.
Now, managing the mental health of individuals and the community is a complex, multifactorial issue. What I want to do here, is teach you about one factor influencing your mood, and even your inherent personality! The gut microbiome!
Your brain is heavily influenced by microbes in your gut, in fact, there are at least 4 different ways in which microbes send signals and neurochemical substances to the brain. Substances that affect the way your brain functions! Research shows that a healthy microbiome and probiotic supplementation can reduce the stress response which is intimately linked with anxiety and depression (1). The mechanism for this is reduced inflammation and increased production of serotonin in the gut - both of which are important in mental health (2).
We are now discovering that the microbiome can play a key role in the development of the brain, the capacity of your brain to renew and repair, as well as regulate your nervous system and influence a host of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Let’s look at some of the research:
Correlations between mental health and bowel disease
Let’s look at some of the important brain influencing substances the gut produces.
Microbes in your gut directly produce and excrete substances such as:
- GABA - an important neurotransmitter, low levels can be linked to depression and anxiety
- Dopamine - plays a role in feelings of happiness and pleasure. Increasingly we see people using foods and substances to make up for low levels of dopamine production by the gut
- Noradrenaline - this one helps you get up and get going. A crucial part of everyday function and energy, the gut is one contributor to noradrenaline levels in the body
The gut microbiota also influences how much serotonin we make:
- Serotonin is a big topic in the world of mental health. It is responsible for feelings of happiness and well being. If your microbiome is in a state of dysbiosis, you will have impaired capacity to make and utilise serotonin.
But its not just the influence of beneficial neurotransmitters that matter in the gut.
Other research has found dysbiosis and the presence of pathogens in the microbiome (3), produce toxic substances that affect the brain and mood. Further to this, gut dysbiosis can lead to an increase in permeability in the gut lining - allowing toxins to move out of the gut and into the bloodstream.
These substances are able to travel to the brain and influence your mood.
This is further backed up by the link between conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome and depression, in fact, the risk of depression in people with inflammatory bowel conditions is 3 times higher than the general population. There is evidence that restoration of the microbiome including the consumption of fermented foods can improve outcomes (3).
It’s not only your mental health but your overall brain health, including your personality.
It’s not only anxiety and depression that microbiome restoration can help with, many other neurological conditions benefit from manipulating the gut-brain axis via microbial rebalancing. Conditions such as ASD, Parkinsons, dementia, ADHD and insomnia (6).
Enter the concept of psychobiotics. A psychobiotic is any probiotic that has therapeutic potential in treating psychiatric diseases. All of the strains within our KW cultures have psychobiotic actions. Lactobacillus plantarum specificall y has been shown to produce GABA, serotonin, ACTH and dopamine and along with lactobacillus rhamnosus has been shown to reduce symptoms o anxiety and depression and Bifidobacterium Longum has been associated with reduced stress and improved memory (6).
Psychobiotics of course, are all about supplementation, it’s important to remember that a healthy, robust microbial community will fill this role as well. We are talking here about disease prevention, ageing well and maintaining a positive healthy mood.
It has been suggested that a healthy microbiome, as opposed to an unhealthy microbiome, can affect feeling such as:
- Social anxiety
There is no doubt the gut and brain are intricately linked. The state of your microbiome can affect your mood, your personality, your social skills, curiosity, and even your personality (3). So the question is…how is your mood, your outlook, your perspective? There is a good reason to think that focusing on your microbiome and regular consumption of probiotic cultures with clinically evidenced beneficial strains, will improve your mental health.
This is such profound information as what we are really looking at here are personality changes. Clinically, I see this all the time, calmer, happier, more positive feelings emerge after addressing your gut dysbiosis. People feel that they are their true selves again. So what should you do?
A case for ‘test don’t guess’?
If you are struggling with your mood, you feel like you are doing all the right things, or even if you feel like you aren’t doing all the right things - there’s so much more to it. Your microbiome can influence your food preferences, food and substance addictions, sugar cravings, and simply your appetite. It’s time to stop blaming yourself, stop thinking that this is just something that happens, and find out what is going on in there.
Thanks to the amazing world of technology, we can identify and measure so much of what is happening in your gut. For example:
- The types and numbers of microbes in your gut
- The metabolites (active substances) produced by these microbes
- Your digestive capacity - speaks to the capacity for absorbing nutrients
- The ability of the gut to produce vitamins
- Inflammation in the gut wall
Testing your gut is simpler than ever, and we have bundled it up with a one-hour naturopathic consultation so we can consider your history, symptoms, goals, and test results as part of the bigger picture.
A case for a good quality food-based probiotic?
Probiotic use has been found to improve mood in both depressed and healthy people, making it important for not only the management of mood disorders, but prevention. One study found strains the strains most effective at improving mood to be Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus casei (4) - all except one are in high dose in our kefir and yoghurt.
Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria families are known to produce GABA and serotonin (5). These are the key strains in our ferments with the capacity to support mood both for prevention and management. Check out our cultures here.
A Case for Microbiome restoration?
Well, yes! Absolutely! Restoring the microbiome is one of the key interventions in restoring your physical and mental health. This can be done in a stepwise process:
- Test the gut
- Work on correcting based on your results
Altering and improving your gut microbiome is a long process, often requiring guidance and support. This is where we come in to educate, guide and even cheer you on. All health interventions need commitment and support. Check out how we do this here.
In a nutshell:
Every aspect of your brain function is linked to your gut, that is why there is so much research exploring the gut-brain axis. You cant look at one without looking at the other, but you can make positive changes and expect to move towards balance and contentment.
- National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results