The Gut Brain Connection (An Overlooked Cause of Depression)
Do you know about the gut brain connection? Read on to learn how a leaky gut could be the cause of your depression, anxiety, brain fog and more.
You’ve almost certainly heard of “leaky gut” and the health issues it can cause. But just in case, let’s quickly cover the bases…
When your body is healthy, your digestive tract serves as a barrier between your gut and your bloodstream. But the epithelial lining of your gut is very sensitive. And it can easily become compromised. When this barrier becomes too porous, undigested food, yeast, pathogens and other foreign matter is allowed to enter your bloodstream.
This, in turn, can cause chronic inflammation, allergic reactions, food intolerances, autoimmune illness – and a HOST of symptoms, seemingly unrelated to the gut.
Today, you’ll discover how the health of your gut plays a role in your mood, and the simple nutritional strategies you can use to improve your gut’s integrity.
Intestinal Permeability: Is Leaky Gut a Myth?
You might be surprised, but many doctors and mainstream medical institutions outright dismiss the idea of “leaky gut.” Some claim the condition doesn’t even exist!
Perhaps they should broaden their horizon just a bit, because the National Library of Medicine database, PubMed, reveals more than 14,000 results for the term “intestinal permeability”!
Peer-reviewed scientific studies linking this condition to everything from autoimmunity (and brain autoimmunity), to Alzheimer’s, heart disease, IBS, obesity, and more.1
And it should come as no surprise, considering Hippocrates’ observation that “all disease begins in the gut”.
But how does what happens in your gut… play a role in the function of your brain?
The Gut Brain Connection
Your digestive tract contains the second highest number of nerves in your body! And your gut is in constant communication with your brain. If you have “leaky gut”, these messages can cause unusual neurological symptoms.
In the words of neuroscientist, John F. Cryan, PhD:
“There is no question that the gut microbiome regulates fundamental brain processes important for the development of neurological diseases.”
Let’s take a look at the common neurological symptoms linked with leaky gut:
- Anxiety & Depression – Studies show increased inflammation is associated with anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and other mood disorders.2,3,4,5
- Brain Fog – A common complaint among those with autoimmune disease and chronic pain. Digestive inflammation impairs gut-brain communication, which can lead to a numb feeling of “unreality”, poor focus, impaired learning and memory.6
- Muscle Twitches – Leaky gut can cause deficiencies of magnesium and potassium, which can lead to muscle twitches, cramps and spasms.7
- Schizophrenia – A study published in Schizophrenia Research, showed that inflammation in the circulatory and nervous systems can be linked to mental illness.8
In addition to these neurological conditions, intestinal permeability has also been linked to Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, chronic migraines, autism and neuropathy.9,10,11
The Gut Brain Connection: How Bad Bacteria Can Cause a Really Bad Mood
The inflammatory response is a key biological process. It’s also involved in creating the symptoms of depression. And while cytokines are best-known for inducing these symptoms, so too are other inflammatory compounds, known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS).
Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are a component of the outer membrane of certain bacteria. Since the body is evolutionarily trained to seek-and-destroy these bad bacteria, they are seen as a threat – to which the body mounts a strong immune response.12
Researchers from Belgium conducted a study to determine if increased gut permeability and resulting increase in LPS was linked with depression, by measuring antibodies in healthy controls compared to patients with major depression.
The researchers found significantly higher levels of LPS antibodies in patients with major depression. In fact, the differences were so significant that levels of these compounds could be used to diagnose major depression with an accuracy of just over 90%!13
Other symptoms associated with increased antibodies against LPS include: Fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms and a subjective feeling of infection.
Heal Your Gut… Help Your Mood!
Healing leaky gut can go a long way to improving your mood.
Enjoying foods rich in l-glutamine, like gelatin-rich bone broth, and taking l-glutamine supplements is the first course of action. 14
It might also be a good idea to use anti-inflammatory, gut-healing herbs such as turmeric and to ensure that ample amounts of the dietary nutrients required for intestinal epithelial tissue repair are consumed. These include easily assimilated forms of protein, vitamins A and E and zinc.15,16
Here are some excellent food sources of gut-healing nutrients:
- Grass-fed beef, lamb, bison, elk
- Organ meats – especially liver and bone marrow
- Clean-sourced & wild-caught oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, crab
- Clean-sourced & wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel
And it’s not just what you eat… but also what you don’t!
Foods and compounds known to increase intestinal permeability include:
- Inflammatory Neolithic Foods : Gluten, grains, legumes, pasteurized dairy, alcohol, and sugar can all contribute to leaky gut.17,18,19,20
- Environmental Toxins: Exposure to toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury or cadmium can cause irritation in the intestinal lining and promote leaky gut.21,22
- BPA: This common chemical found in can liners has been shown to damage intestines, allowing toxins and pathogens to more easily enter the body.23
- Medications: NSAID pain relievers, antibiotics, steroids, birth control pills and acid-reducing drugs can greatly increase risk of leaky gut.24,25
Finally, stress is another contributing factor. A study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology showed that usually harmless microbes actually turned pathogenic in response to stress hormones.26
And we can’t forget about sleep! Numerous studies have linked insomnia with depression via the microbiome-gut-brain axis, so be sure you’re sleeping sufficiently and soundly to promote a positive mental outlook.27,28