You may have heard the terms 'gut-brain axis' lately. It's an area of health that is gaining a lot of research and better understanding, of late. Essentially, it refers to the connection or communication between your gut (digestive system) and brain (nervous system; mood and behaviour).
It's not a connection most people would make, especially since we're taught to think about these things as being quite separate in mainstream medicine. For example, if you are feeling depressed or anxious, your Doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant or 'benzo' which work on specific neurotransmitters (brain chemicals or messengers). But how often would your Doctor tell you to change your diet or take a probiotic for these symptoms?
The answer is - rarely or never!
BUTTERFLIES IN YOUR TUMMY
The best example of the gut-brain connection at work is the 'butterflies' we get in our tummy when we're nervous; the sick feeling we get, or the loss of appetite when we're incredibly stressed. We've all experienced these at some point and it's the best example of this concept in action.
As a naturopath, I also see this gut-brain connection at work in patients who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). One of the first questions I ask a person with IBS is, "are you, or have you been stressed/anxious/under pressure/depressed?" In my experience, IBS and stress go hand-in-hand and almost no amount of dietary intervention alone is going to completely resolve the IBS, without addressing the nervous system, and reducing the effects of stress.
So if stress can affect our tummy, it should be no surprise then, that the foods we eat, the bugs in our gut, and overall health of our digestive system can play a huge role in how we're feeling.
NEW RESEARCH SHOWS PROBIOTICS MAY IMPROVE DEPRESSION
In a recent study published in the journal of Gastroenterology, researchers found that twice as many adults with IBS reported improvements in their co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic, than those who took a placebo.
This was a pilot study involving 44 patients with IBS, and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. Half of the subjects were given Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 for 10 weeks, while the others received a placebo.
At 6 weeks, 14 of the 22 (64%) patients taking the probiotic had decreased depression scores, and functional MRI also showed that the improvement in depression scores was also associated with changes in multiple areas of the brain which are involved in mood control.
Senior author, Dr. Premysl Bercik, said that the study provides further evidence of the microbiota environment in the intestines being in direct communication with the brain.
"This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases."
Although a small study, this paper provides further proof of the complex and immensely important interplay between the digestive and neurological systems.
THE NATUROPATHIC APPROACH
As I've said before, the treatment and resolution of mood disorders requires a multi-system and multi-pronged approach. Fundamental to this, is improving the diet, and supporting healthy gastrointestinal (gut) function with specific foods, nutrients, probiotics and in some cases, specially selected supplements, also. Many people do not realise that the majority of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that most most anti-depressants work on trying to increase, is actually made in the gastrointestinal tract!
It's important for people to understand this, and move beyond the notion that a pill (this includes drugs or vitamin/mineral supplements) will simply solve the problem! Yes it takes effort and commitment to make sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle; but it's worth it for the end result.
In practice, one of the first things I do with new patients is assess their current diet and eating habits. From here, we can start to work together to make the necessary changes required for optimal health - whatever the end goal!
If you'd like to know more or have any specific questions about how I can help you, please get in touch with me here.