Anxiety and Depression…. It’s Not in Your Head: Your Gut Might Be Telling You Something
Over the last 18 years in clinical practice, I’ve seen first-hand that in order to create and sustain wellness, we need to do more than just treat a symptom; we need to find the cause.
Often, the cause is not immediately related to the symptom; the symptom may be the result of something that happened “upstream” which created a chain reaction of sorts. So while the symptom may be cause for concern, the bigger challenge is tracking down how, why and where it all began.
Over the past 18 years that I’ve been in practice, I’ve seen over and over again the importance of maintaining a healthy digestive tract: so many different symptoms can present when the bacteria in our digestive system become imbalanced.
I am thrilled to see so much new research and information in the media these days about the important role our gut flora play in our health; it’s so exciting to see what we have learned and experienced first-hand and finally others talking about it too.
Melbourne Naturopath Domenic Pisanelli at Vital Health and Natural Medicine has seen the connection between gut bacteria to mental and physical health for more than a decade, when most people think about mental health, they still think about brain chemical imbalances (Low serotonin, Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro). But now new research is showing that the imbalance causing anxiety and depression (and a host of digestive and other health concerns) may not be in your head; it may be in your gut.
Let’s look at your gut and why it’s so important to your health.
What is your Gut?
Your gut is considered to be your entire digestive system including your stomach, colon, and intestines. We have 100 trillion bacteria (about 2.5kgs worth) in our guts. In comparison, we have about 37 trillion cells in our entire body! While gut bacteria is often labelled as either good or bad, all bacteria play a role and are necessary but they must remain in balance so that no one group takes over.
Bacteria help us break down food, absorb nutrients, run our immune system (70-80% of our immune cells reside in our intestines) and our digestive system. When we have too many of certain kinds of bacteria, it can cause us digestive distresses, obesity, and now research shows, can even impact our mood.
The bacteria in our guts generally coexist peacefully but when we get out of alignment, stressed out, eat poorly, don’t sleep enough, or take medications such as antibiotics, we upset the delicate balance, killing off necessary good bacteria we need for health and allowing other bacteria to take over. That’s one powerful reason why our lifestyle choices and diets have such a huge impact on our health!
Antibiotics were developed to kill off potentially deadly bacteria and they may be one of the greatest discoveries of all time for extending our health. But antibiotics kill off all bacteria: they do not differentiate between good and bad or which bacteria play what role. That means every time we take an antibiotic, we lose healthy bacteria as well. If we eat poorly, have stress or poor sleep, we create the environment for less healthy or potentially harmful bacteria to grow and we shift the balance of bacteria in our systems.
Gut Flora and Weight Gain
While we’ve known for a while that stress, poor sleep, and an imbalanced diet can lead to bacteria imbalances, studies also show that eating junk food such as fast food will kill off healthy bacteria. A genetic epidemiology professor recently put his son on a McDonalds diet for 10 days as an experiment. He tested his son’s gut microbes and found 3500 species of bacteria before starting; by the end of 10 days, 1300 of the species had died.
In addition, the professor found that a new type of bacteria took control in his son and that the bacteria linked to obesity became present. Even more concerning was the fact that when the son resumed a normal diet, the species of bacteria that had been killed did not return! This will create an imbalanced environment in the gut that may lead to a host of potential health concerns over time if not corrected.
Fast food has been linked to obesity because we assume it’s all about eating too many calories. This study shows that the food itself may be altering gut bacteria balance and causing us to hold onto or gain weight. We’ve already seen lab studies showing that when mice receive bacteria from obese humans they become obese as well and headlines were made recently when a woman received a faecal transplant and became obese after the procedure. These studies show that being obese is not just about eating too much and lacking willpower!
Conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s and Colitis have long been connected to gut health but now we are beginning to see connections between gut flora imbalances and diabetes, heart disease and cancer as well. I expect we will see much more research on this in the years to come.
Gut Flora and Mood
In addition to all of the connections established already between health, disease and your gut, exciting new research has now also shown that our gut is actually responsible for how we feel (good or bad) and is even connected to mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.
For a long time scientists thought that we might feel good or bad simply because of how our digestive tract was doing; it’s hard to feel good if you feel bloated or have cramping. Now, however, researchers have been able to show it’s even more than that. Bacteria in our guts are actually able to produce hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and other mood enhancers — or detractors — directly!
These chemicals are not just produced in the brain: they are created in our guts as well!
It’s incredible to think that we have hormones being created in our digestive systems and not just our brains: our stomachs are actually creating or altering our moods! This helps explain why we have been able to treat menopausal women who experience anxiety and depression so effectively through our nutritional plan and supplements.
In fact, scientists now believe that the neurons in the gut produce as much dopamine as those in the head and about 95% of the serotonin in the body measured at any point in time is typically in the enteric nervous system, or the nervous system found in the gut.
In the future, gut bacteria research may lead to alternative therapies and treatments for a number of mental health concerns. I am excited about what we will learn in the years to come. In the meantime, however, if you suffer from anxiety and depression, I encourage taking a look at your stomach and not just your head.
I believe time and more research will connect many of our modern diseases and conditions including obesity and other mental health concerns to gut health. More than ever, research is proving that we truly are what we eat and that food is our greatest medicine or our most dangerous poison.
At Vital Health and Natural Medicine, I have found that eating whole foods, reducing stress, getting a good night’s sleep, eliminating unnecessary medications, and taking care of the gut will go a long way to supporting better gut — and overall — health. In addition, adding more fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso to our diets can help to restore gut balance.
I also encourage all my patients to undergo the Vital Health Gut Reset to support better gut health, especially if they are experiencing any symptoms. If you are struggling with digestive concerns, you need to restore balance in your gut flora. If you are struggling with weight gain or obesity, you may have a flora imbalance. And if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, you’ll need to balance the hormones being created in your gut as well as your brain with healthy probiotic support. One way of measuring Gut bacteria is through a Comprehensive Stool analysis. A greater understanding of the number and types of bacteria can be assessed.
So when anyone says “It’s all in your head”, don’t accept this as gospel. Search, investigate, and look into other mechanisms especially your gut function. After all at Vital Health and Natural Medicine….. “IN GUT WE TRUST”.
Vital Health and Natural Medicine is committed to ensuring that your privacy is protected. Should we ask you to provide certain information by which you can be identified when using this website, then you can be assured that it will only be used in accordance with this privacy statement.
Vital Health and Natural Medicine may change this policy from time to time by updating this page. You should check this page from time to time to ensure that you are happy with any changes. This policy is effective from January 1st 2012.
We may collect the following information:
What we do with the information we gather
We require this information to understand your needs and provide you with a better service, and in particular for the following reasons:
We are committed to ensuring that your information is secure. In order to prevent unauthorised access or disclosure, we have put in place suitable physical, electronic and managerial procedures to safeguard and secure the information we collect online.
Our Policy for Protecting Your Online Privacy
This website uses Google Analytics to help analyse how users use the site. The tool uses “cookies,” which are text files placed on your computer, to collect standard Internet log information and visitor behaviour information in an anonymous form. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including IP address) is transmitted to Google. This information is then used to evaluate visitors of the website and to compile statistical reports on website activity for MyVitalHealthSolutions.com.au.
We will never (and will not allow any third party to) use the statistical analytics tool to track or to collect any Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of visitors to our site. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google. Neither we nor Google will link, or seek to link, an IP address with the identity of a computer user. We will not associate any data gathered from this site with any Personally Identifiable Information from any source, unless you explicitly submit that information via a fill-in form on our website.
A cookie is a small file which asks permission to be placed on your computer’s hard drive. Once you agree, the file is added and the cookie helps analyse web traffic or lets you know when you visit a particular site. Cookies allow web applications to respond to you as an individual. The web application can tailor its operations to your needs, likes and dislikes by gathering and remembering information about your preferences.
We use traffic log cookies to identify which pages are being used. This helps us analyse data about webpage traffic and improve our website in order to tailor it to customer needs. We only use this information for statistical analysis purposes and then the data is removed from the system.
Overall, cookies help us provide you with a better website by enabling us to monitor which pages you find useful and which you do not. A cookie in no way gives us access to your computer or any information about you, other than the data you choose to share with us.
You can choose to accept or decline cookies. Most web browsers automatically accept cookies, but you can usually modify your browser setting to decline cookies if you prefer. This may prevent you from taking full advantage of the website.
Links to other websites
Our website may contain links to other websites of interest. However, once you have used these links to leave our site, you should note that we do not have any control over that other website. Therefore, we cannot be responsible for the protection and privacy of any information which you provide whilst visiting such sites and such sites are not governed by this privacy statement. You should exercise caution and look at the privacy statement applicable to the website in question.
Controlling your personal information
You may choose to restrict the collection or use of your personal information in the following ways:
We will not sell, distribute or lease your personal information to third parties unless we have your permission or are required by law to do so (we hate spam as much as you do… probably more). We may use your personal information to send you promotional information about third parties which we think you may find interesting if you tell us that you wish this to happen.
You may request details of personal information which we hold about you under the Data Protection Act 1998. A small fee will be payable. If you would like a copy of the information held on you please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you believe that any information we are holding on you is incorrect or incomplete, please write to or email us as soon as possible at the above address. We will promptly correct any information found to be incorrect.