Can Bacteria Make You Happy? Depression and the Microbiome
March 21, 2023
Are you feeling a bit down? Research shows a direct link between what we eat and depression. Many of us had parents who said, "you are what you eat," but the saying takes on a new meaning regarding our mental health. Many researchers believe that what we put in our bodies can directly impact our mood and mental health—and vice versa.
Here's what we know
There's a lot of trash talk going on inside our bodies. Our brain sends messages to our gut, and the organisms that live in our gut (microbiome) talk back to our brain. Your gut and brain are connected by a significant player called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a part of your autonomic nervous system that allows you to breathe, digest food, and swallow automatically. This nerve is responsible for relaying messages between your brain and your colon. If your gut microbiome is imbalanced (dysbiosis), that message is sent to your brain and can really affect your mental health. Your body doesn't want the harmful bacteria in your colon (gut), so your immune system is automatically alerted, resulting in inflammation. Not a surprise inflammation can contribute to depression, and depression can cause inflammation. But a diverse microbiome can help break this cycle. A diet rich in plants and whole grains is one way to increase the growth of good microbes and reduce inflammation. The "good" gut bacteria thrive on a natural, plant-based diet because fiber is an essential energy source.
What the heck is Butyrate, and why are we talking about it?
Butyrate is an essential fatty acid produced by good gut bacteria from eating plants (fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and legumes). Butyrate keeps your gut happy, and your brain benefits too. Butyrate is the primary fuel source for the cells in your gut lining, so it helps keep this intestinal barrier intact. It also helps prevent and reduce inflammation, which can harm your mood. See the pattern emerging? The great news is you can actively increase the butyrate production in your gut microbiome through simple changes in your diet. One way is by eating prebiotics: foods that your gut bacteria thrive on, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
What's the brain-gut connection?
Does depression cause our brain to desire less healthy food, or does eating less healthy food cause depressive symptoms? There is no definitive answer to this chicken or the egg question, but studies show a clear brain-gut connection. We also know that serotonin, a neurotransmitter in our body, is linked to sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Almost 95% of serotonin produced is in our gastrointestinal tract, which is filled with millions of nerve cells, making the inner workings of our digestive system a guiding force of our emotions. Lastly, our gut is full of trillions of good bacteria that fend off germs and keep our immune systems in check. A diet high in fat in sugar is bad for your gut health and, therefore, your brain.
What should I eat?
Choosing foods that are good for your mental health is the same as choosing foods that are good for your physical health. Want to improve your mood? Let's start by changing your diet. Make sure to get some movement and sunlight, and know we are here to help! Our meals are whole or nutrient-dense, fiber-filled goodness that will have your gut microbiome thanking you!