There’s no doubt about it: Depression is a real problem. One in every ten adults reports being depressed. The World Health Organization states depression is the fourth leading cause of disability and disease worldwide and will rank number one by 2020. Reports indicate that more than 15 percent of the population will experience depression serious enough to require treatment at least once in their lifetime.
Although depression is real, synthetic drugs aren’t the only (or best) way to address the problem. My focus has always been on safe, effective solutions, cures, and alternatives to drugs and surgery. Just a few of my top recommendations to combat depression have been—
- Aerobic exercise (it typically takes 30 minutes for the body begin to release mood-enhancing endorphins and increase blood levels of serotonin)
- Eliminating food allergies
- Balancing blood sugar and hormones
- Supplementing with substances known to benefit the brain and mood, including omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), melatonin, tryptophan, low doses of the trace mineral lithium, niacinamide, St. John’swort, and di-methylglycine (DMG)
Additionally, research is beginning to find a strong connection between mental health and the health of our gut bacteria.
Our bodies have a “second brain”—a separate enteric nervous system (ENS) that controls and regulates our intestinal tract. We now know that the ENS has the capability of working independently or in conjunction with the brain. The ENS senses environmental threats just like our eyes, nose, skin, etc.
An enormous about of information about our environment comes from our gut, and although the information affects our overall well-being, it doesn’t always come to consciousness. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and has the widest distribution of any nerve in the body. It connects the intestinal tract with the brain, and 90 percent of all the signals passing along this nerve are traveling from the gut to the brain and not from the brain downward.
Our second brain also produces numerous hormones and about 40 different neurotransmitters of the exact same type found in the brain. In fact, 95 percent of all the serotonin found in the body at any one time is in the enteric nervous system. It has been well established that the nerve signals from the gut to the brain, passing along the vagus nerve, affect our mood. Stimulating the vagus nerve can be an affective treatment for depression.
Research has also shown that eating fatty foods sends a strong message from the gut to the brain that negates sadness. Oftentimes stress can be the trigger.
Stress causes the gut to increase production of the hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin sends messages to the brain, through the vagus nerve, telling it to release more dopamine, a substance that reduces depression and anxiety. But ghrelin also makes us hungrier. Stress starts a chain of events that leads to an increase in hunger and a craving for fatty foods.
All of this helps explain why fatty foods make us feel good. It also explains why animals under stress tend to seek out fatty foods. And it’s why that big bowl of ice cream tastes so good when you’re feeling down.
If you don’t already, it’s imperative that you start taking a probiotic supplement to ensure healthy gut bacteria. In doing so, you are taking the necessary steps to support the health of your brain and boost your mood. You also may want to increase your intake of live, fermented foods, which are naturally rich in beneficial bacteria.