We have known for a long time that our emotions are capable of affecting our digestive systems (ever notice how you lose your appetite when you're angry or you crave sugar when you're sad?). No news there. But what's really interesting and cutting-edge are the recent discoveries that the reverse is also true: our digestive systems themselves – and the microorganisms that live in them – strongly affect our emotions.
(Note: These microorganisms are called the "microbiota", though they are sometimes referred to as the "microbiome". While microbiome is technically a little inaccurate, they are pretty much used interchangeably nowadays. So if you see me or someone else referencing the microbiome, we're almost always talking about the microorganisms a.k.a. the microbiota.)
The microbiota constantly communicates with the brain through a number of pathways, each of which influences our emotional state. This is really important to understand when we think about a condition like depression. Most people think that depression is a disease that's all in your head, but in fact this is proof that it is NOT. What's happening in your gut (the types of microorganisms living in it, the integrity of the gut lining, and so on) hugely contributes to the moods that you experience, the way you think, your stress tolerance, and so much more. When we treat a condition like depression as if it's a head-specific, we miss the important, life-changing opportunity to correct the physiological aspects of the illness.
Dietary and lifestyle modifications specifically directed at improving gut health should be a focal point of depression treatment. Healing the gut significantly improves mood, cognition, mental sharpness, emotional resilience, and energy levels and is low-cost, relatively easy, extremely low-risk, and fast.
Healing the gut (in addition to reducing systemic inflammation) is the first thing I work on with my clients suffering from depression/anxiety, and with fantastic results. Improving gut health carries none of the risk of pharmaceutical interventions, and the only "side effects" are better skin, better digestion, reaching a healthier weight, and just about everything else that falls under the "better overall health" umbrella. Therapy is useful, but it does not address any of the underlying physiological contributors to depression so it's not enough on its own. The best treatment is a combination of functional nutrition therapy to address the underlying physiological imbalances and talk therapy to address the negative thought patterns. This is the most effective, fastest way to you rid your life of depression and regain your happiness and zest for life.
Have any of you noticed that your gut and digestion make a difference in how you feel? Let me know in the comments!