Your Gut Bacteria Linked to Anxiety and Depression. Here’s What to Do to Stay Mentally Healthy

Your Gut Bacteria Linked to Anxiety and Depression. Here’s What to Do to Stay Mentally Healthy

You have likely acted on a “gut feeling” before, trusted your gut or felt butterflies in your stomach. These phrases might sound like tired cliches, but researchers have found that there is a physical connection between the gut and the brain. New studies show that bacterial balance in the gut has a major impact on mental health, particularly anxiety and depression.

Anxiety and Depression

A New Prescription for Mental Health

The human intestinal tract is home to about five pounds of good and bad bacteria. In fact, the number of microorganisms in your body is greater than the number of your body’s own cells! Good bacteria include organisms like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, while bad bacteria include Helicobacter Pylori, which is infamous for causing ulcers. A study conducted by a team of neuro-biologists from Oxford University found that subjects who took supplements to increase their level of healthy gut bacteria experienced a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.

Subjects who took the supplements also had lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone which increases anxiety and is correlated with health problems like obesity and adrenal fatigue. It also promotes inflammation in the body’s tissues, which may lead to feelings of depression and fatigue. Cortisol was an essential hormone to early humans because it initiated the “fight or flight” response. However, in today’s increasingly sedentary society this hormone mostly serves to increase stress levels, leading to obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.

While current research does not yet support good bacteria as a replacement for conventional mental health treatment, more doctors and mental health professionals are considering probiotic therapy as an add-on treatment. Patients with mild cases of anxiety or depression may consider boosting their healthy gut bacteria before trying medications.

Increase Healthy Gut Bacteria with Fermented Foods

The simplest way to optimize gut bacteria is to ingest healthy bacteria like the study participants did. This can be done through supplement pills, or more easily by incorporating probiotic foods into your diet. The best foods for promoting healthy gut bacteria are fermented foods. Five of the best fermented foods for increasing good bacteria are:

• Yogurt, which is rich in strains of Lactobacilli and also provides a good source of calcium. Choose a plain yogurt with no added sugar or artificial ingredients.