Surprising Link Between Depression, Anxiety, and Gut Health

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

A young woman who seems to be sad and depressed. Studies have shown that gut health has a major effect on mental health.Did you know your gut health may affect your mood and behavior? The belief that gut health is connected to mental well-being dates back more than a hundred years. In the early 1900’s, scientists and clinicians emphasized the relationship between gastrointestinal health and mental health. By 1930, opinions reversed and it was thought that mental health disorders were an influencing factor in gastrointestinal disorders.[1]

The interest in gut health has never been stronger and the exploration into the gut microbiota has revealed a close relation between behavioral issues, mood, and bacteria imbalance. There are a number of factors that influence the condition of the gut microbiota and gut environment, diet is a major one.[2] Immune system health is also closely associated.[3]

How Your Gut Is Connected to Your Brain

The gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve extends from the brain stem down into the neck, thorax, and abdomen. The nerve exits the brain stem through rootlets in the medulla that are caudal to the rootlets for the ninth cranial nerve.[4] The vagus nerve supplies motor parasympathetic fibers to all organs except adrenal glands, all the way from the neck down to the second segment of the transverse colon. It helps regulate heart rate, speech, sweating, and various gastrointestinal functions.

The enteric nervous system connects with the central nervous system. It contains 200-600 million neurons.[5] Local and centrally projecting sensory neurons in the gut wall monitor mechanical conditions in the gut wall. Local circuit neurons, on the other hand, integrate this information. This enables motor neurons to influence the activity of the smooth muscles in the gut wall and glandular secretions such as digestive enzymes, mucus, stomach acid, and bile.[6]

The enteric nervous system has been referred to as a “second brain” because of its ability to operate autonomously and communicate with the central nervous system through the parasympathetic (i.e., via the vagus nerve) and sympathetic nervous systems.

Finally, the gut-brain axis consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.[7] There is strong evidence from animal studies that gut microorganisms can activate the vagus nerve and play a critical role in mediating effects on the brain and behavior.[8]

The Role of Bacteria in Depression and Anxiety

Research has shown the gut microbiota influences brain chemistry and behavior.[9] For example, people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the associated cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, commonly suffer from depression and anxiety as well.

The interaction between bacteria and depression and anxiety goes both ways. For example, in a 2009 study, male pup rats were stressed by separating them from their mothers, which altered the rat’s microbiota. Even though pups were separated for 11 days and just for three hours daily, researchers concluded that this adverse event might increase vulnerability to disease later in life, ranging from depression to irritable bowel syndrome.[10] Gut microbiota influences serotonin and dopamine production. In fact, more than 90% of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin is a key regulator of gastrointestinal motility.[11] Serotonin is also one of the “feel-good” neurotransmitters and contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. In fact, the enteric nervous system makes use of more than thirty neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. In a 2014 study, depressed rats were given a strain of probiotics which resulted in “normalization of the immune response and reversal of behavioral deficits.” In this instance, it seems the use of probiotics may have had a therapeutic effect on anxiety and depression symptoms.[12]

How to Aid or Restore Your Gut Flora

Following a healthy diet is one way to encourage a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Base your diet on fruits and vegetables. Add fermented foods, such as kefir and yogurt, to your diet for a good, natural source of probiotics.

If you don’t consume probiotic foods, consider taking a high-strain probiotic supplement such as Floratrex™, which also contains prebiotics, to promote a healthy gut environment.

Have you noticed a correlation between your gut health and your mental health? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

References (12)
  1. Alison C Bested, Alan C Logan, Eva M Selhub. Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchinikoff to modern advances: Part II – contemporary contextual. Gut Pathog. 2013; 5.
  2. Dash S, Clarke G, Berk M, Jacka FN. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2015 Jan: 28(1):1-6.
  3. Yasmine Belkaid, Timothy Hand. Role of the Microbiota in Immunity and Inflammation. Cell. 2014 Mar 27.
  4. LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO HEALTH SCIENCES DIVISION. Stritch School of Medicine. The Vagus Nerve.
  5. Furness JB, Callaghan BP, Rivera LR, Cho HJ. The enteric nervous system and gastrointestinal innervation: integrated local and central control. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2014;817:39-71.
  6. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al. The Enteric Nervous System. Neuroscience. 2nd Edition. Sinauer Associates; 2001.
  7. Marilia Carabotti, Annunziata Scirocco, Maria Antonietta Maselli and Carola Severi. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenerology. 2015 Apr-Jun.
  8. Forsythe P, Bienenstock J, Kunze WA. Vagal pathways for microbiome-brain-gut-axis communication. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2014.
  9. Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Melancholic microbes: a link between gut microbiota and depression? Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2013 September.
  10. O’Mahony SM, Marchesi JR, Scully P, Codling C, Ceolho AM, Quigley EM, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Early life stress alters behavior, immunity and microbiota in rats: implications for irritable bowel syndrome and psychiatric illness. Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Feb.
  11. Reigstad CS, Salmonson CE, Rainey JF 3rd, Szurszewski JH, Linden DR, Sonnenburg JL, Farrugia G, Kashyap PC. Gut microbes promote colonic serotonin production through an effect of short-chain fatty acids on enterochromaffin cells. FASEB J. 2015 Apr.
  12. Slyepchenko A, Carvalho AF, Cha DS, Kasper S, McIntyre RS. Gut emotions – mechanisms of action of probiotics as novel therapeutic targets for depression and anxiety disorders. CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets. 2014:13.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • tackup

    Anyone out there have any recommendations things they’ve done tryed ect ??? Been years and lots of doctors for me recently 4 different prescriptions all ment for treatment of cholesterol but tryed for my intestinal problems all with huge fail and side effects 🙁 hundreds spent on probiotic ect 🙁

  • Tackup, if you want to email me, I’d be happy to share what finally worked for me after struggling for over 20 years.
    noel.hannah@gmail.com

  • TinaKumley

    Yes I noticed that daily and acute stresses were easy sailing with the use of probiotics and I also use a bio cleanser I use Plexus, happy to recommend you to a lady that sales them Melinda Pibal

  • Emily Wittenberg Godfrey

    I’d love to hear too…hannah! 🙂

  • Emily, if you email me, I’ll gladly share. 🙂
    noel.hannah@gmail.com

  • Barbara Gaskill

    What can we do about being sprayed with chemicals from airplanes – aka chem trails that part of mental health issue along with aluminum poison and other chemicals?

  • Ashley Hart

    One of the BEST probiotics out there is Probio5 by the company Plexus! Anyone interested feel free to order/contact me!! You won’t regret it!!! There are also tons of other products here that help aid in gut health and all over “feel” better health!!!
    http://www.shopmyplexus.harthealthy
    Or contact me at Plexuswithashleyhart@outlook.com

  • Ashley Hart

    These are awesome products!!! Love them!!!

  • GHC Support

    Great question! The following are some suggestions to consider with regard to remaining practice about your personal health in the event of environmental exposure to chemicals and toxic metals.

    Lung cleansing

    Chemical and toxic metal detox

    Air purification

    Water purification

    Ideally this will help you if you have been exposed, and also as a preventative in keeping you healthy in general.

  • Lynne

    Re: depression, anxiety and the gut.
    Absolutely. I’ve had chronic problems with all of these for over 40 years. After working with a humongous number of practitioners of all types, I still suffer in all areas even with a healthy lifestyle and diet. I’ve taken more supplements than I can remember. My PA just recommended Florassist Mood by Life Extension. I have not noticed any improvement yet.

  • Stefanie

    Honestly. If you are looking for products to help you. Plexus is the answer. I swear these have seriously changed people’s lives. Feel free to email me if you want to know more. Stefanieastokes@gmail.com

  • Karla Gossen Duffy

    I have struggled for years as well ~ mostly in the last 10 years after being on antibiotics for abdominal abscesses. I followed a plan discussed on Dr. Oz. It incorporated most things mentioned here, also vinegar (or fermented things: pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee …) L- Glutamine and Oregano pills daily. I really felt a difference after a couple months! I’ve slipped into some bad eating habits lately ~ and after losing 40 lbs and keeping it off a year, dang me! So I’m going to try it again…

  • Julie Hart

    Take lecithin for your cholesterol about a desert spoon a day , it is tasteless also lots of fresh veggies and fruit , fish chicken , I don’t like red meat so I don’t eat it . My cholesterol was 10 . And all medication gave me 24 hour nausea .so I started on lecithin it is now 5.1 . Also I walk for about 30 mins a day . Good luck

  • Amy A Lynch

    If you’re still looking for something to help, I can!! I’ve seen great success with my daily easy regimen

  • Amy A Lynch

    If you’re still looking for something to help, I can!

  • Amy A Lynch

    I have a fantastic daily regimen that has worked wonders for me!

  • Mali Ni

    I have to say, I have tried it all…vitamins, fasts, jobs, exercise, even a raw vegan diet, spiritual development, etc…BUT, as much as some people hate it, the actual clinical medicine has helped me so much. It takes time and dedication either way, but I think all of these things I’ve listed, and this, have made my life better. It solely depends on the individual, but seriously whatever works…I have bi-polar and it literally changes my face and is scary and very painful without my medicine. I have tried…and obviously before the meds. I can’t believe I made it this far. I am grateful for all of these options.

  • Mali Ni

    Whatever works for you 😉

  • Mali Ni

    I’m not a doctor, but have similar issues…is it more of a spice or too much fiber thing…or is it stress related? just curious.

  • Challen Dobbs

    What’s your regimen?

  • Alexa Page Nickol

    I had not known that my anxiety and depression was related to gut health until my friend told me to google it. I am so glad I did and changed my life around! I am a completely different person from a year ago when I decided to take my health back. With my doctors approval I stopped my medications and continued with the all plant based supplements. I have healed my gut, balanced my body and loving every minute of it!

  • Alexa Page Nickol

    I’ll be glad to share what has worked for me if you are still looking. Email me at arnickol2@gmail.com or look me up on fb!

  • Monty Loree

    please share your regimen

  • Leanne

    I found out I had Candida and was experiencing depression, fatigue, anxiety and mood swings. Now that I have changed my diet my mood is changing too, and my energy levels. I also found out that when I was shifting my diet I had to detox as well, I felt pretty miserable during that time and alot of anger came up. It seemed like as I was detoxing physically emotional processing followed. I feel so much better now, I dont have to take afternoon naps, I am craving proteins instead of carbs like french fries and pizza. I am just a few months into my diet change and taking anti-fungal herbs but it is changing my entire life. I will never disregard my diet and how it relates to my emotional health again. Just cutting sugar out of my diet was such a relief to my body, I dont even miss it because i feel sooooooo much better now.

  • TinaKumley

    Try Plexus

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Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your treating doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician. This Web site contains links to Web sites operated by other parties. Such links are provided for your convenience and reference only. We are not responsible for the content or products of any linked site or any link contained in a linked site. Global Healing Center does not adopt any medical claims which may have been made in 3rd party references. Where Global Healing Center has control over the posting or other communications of such claims to the public, Global Healing Center will make its best effort to remove such claims.

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