The New Connection Between Depression and Our Gut
Despite commonly-held beliefs in the medical and psychological community, new research shows that depression starts in the gut, not in the brain.
That statement will probably raise plenty of eyebrows, but recent studies have indicated that it’s likely true.
For a long time, we’ve thought of depression as a disease of the mind, but it turns out its roots might start elsewhere: in your stomach.
These revelations are an exciting new advancement for the treatment of depression; they may even prevent a way to reverse depression in children with neuro-inflammatory symptoms.
Inflammation plays a role in nearly every known disease. For far too long, the psychological community has been committed to treating a disease, when in reality, they were treating a symptom.
That means that understanding this link is a huge step in understanding how and why depression and inflammation affect the brain.
Let’s start by examining the role that your stomach plays in creating inflammation.
Stomach Inflammation and Depression: What You Need to Know
How can chemical reactions in your stomach affect your mood, as well as the chemicals in your brain? It’s a pretty strange-sounding theory the first time you hear it. Here’s how it works:
When your stomach senses a potential threat from something you’ve consumed, it triggers the condition known as inflammation throughout the body.
Inflammation can occur nearly anywhere–it’s simply your body’s response to various cellular injuries.
Inflammation is characterized by:
- Dilation of the capillaries
- Redness & swelling (internally or externally)
- A “hot” sensation
Why would your stomach do this to you?
After all, you just wanted to eat a bag of Doritos! Well, it’s actually trying to help you, but the fact is that our modern diets are increasingly unnatural.
The fact is, our bodies haven’t had the time to get used to many of the chemicals we now take in regularly. When this occurs, your stomach also sends signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.
You’re probably familiar with this feeling: think about how it feels to have “butterflies in your stomach”.
Have you ever noticed that stress affects your appetite and even your desire to eat? Those sensations are caused by inflammatory proteins–notably, C-reactive protein.
The traditional idea of antidepressants providing relief through resetting serotonin levels is now countered by compelling research that it’s actually these drugs’ anti-inflammatory properties that are doing most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to fighting depression.
Conquering Depression Naturally?
It’s time to make a commitment: processed foods, sugary treats, and even “low-fat” snacks that contain artificial sweeteners send the wrong kind of signals to your gut; if you cut them out of your diet, your body will thank you.
Finding the Support You Need
It’s hard to make any big lifestyle changes without the help of a personal support network. F
ind people who are willing to join you on your journey to better health is the best way to ensure you’ll have the support and encouragement you need when the going gets tough.
Science even backs this up–loneliness has been shown to increase inflammation.
The Traditional View of Depression
Depression is usually linked to a deficiency in the body’s monoamine neurotransmitters.
The theory explains that a deficiency in these transmitters inevitably leads to lower levels of norephinephrine and serotonin in the brain. Deficiencies in these two chemicals are commonly regarded as depression’s primary cause.
Now that this long-held belief is being challenged, there are certainly vocal opponents to the “gut-based” theory of depression.
A moderate percentage of these detractors feel that this new data is somehow an attempt of “new-age” practitioners to discredit the field of psychology.
That’s far from the intention: there are certainly still many people who benefit from the use of antidepressants and other psychological medications.
There are many people in the world with low-level depression (dysthymia) that may benefit from anti-inflammatory measures, as opposed to harsh chemical treatments (which may cause further inflammation for certain individuals).
This theory was developed after several studies proved that depressed individuals had significantly higher levels of inflammation. The jury is still out as to whether inflammation is correlated to depression, or whether it’s truly one of the root causes.
There is, however, a lot of compelling evidence to suggest that this might be the case.
What the Scientific Evidence Really Says
It’s become nearly inarguable in the scientific and psychological communities that there’s at least a link between inflammation and depression.
Some have criticized this hypothesis for what they see as a fallacy of a priori reasoning (“getting the cart before the horse”). Research counters this criticism by showing that when a patients depression levels go down, their inflammation levels go down as well.
Brain scans of depressed patients revealed much higher neuroinflammation levels (inflammation levels in the brain itself).
An article in Psychology Today recently explained the results of this study, noting that inflammation markers were increased by a rate of nearly 46% in patients with depression.
There are also indications that depression levels are higher among people who have other health complications related to chronic inflammation.
Natural Methods to Fight Inflammation
Now that the tie between inflammation and depression has been established, what are some easy and inexpensive ways for people to fight inflammation?
A simple Google search for “depression home remedies” would reveal a lot of results, but many of them weren’t chosen because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
When attempting to “DIY”, it’s important to separate fact from faction.
Here are several of the most potent natural methods to combat inflammation in your body:
- Cut out all “junk food (processed, high-sugar, high in saturated or hydrogenated fat, laden with artificial ingredients) A few of the worst culprits are white bread, soda and other corn syrup-based beverages, and even red meat.
- Increase your intake of inflammation-fighting foods, including tomatoes, leafy greens, nuts, beets, as well as spices like ginger and curcumin.
- Regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat inflammation in your body. Even low-impact exercises like walking have been shown to lower inflammation. New research shows that Yoga is also reportedly one of the best activities to reduce inflammatory symptoms (in addition to boosting the body’s antioxidant levels), and thus lower symptoms of depression.
- Deep breathing exercises can reduce stress and calm your body; although this might not fight inflammation in and of itself, it’s a good way to promote the restful state that best fights the causes of inflammation (including heightened cortisol levels)
Some patients with low-level depression have also benefited from taking infliximab, a medication that’s commonly used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
What Does This Discovery Mean for Depression Treatments in the Future?
This important new information about inflammation’s role in depression is providing the impetus for exciting new depression treatments.
One notable example comes from Ohio, where researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that children who had experienced some form of emotional trauma reported higher levels of neuroinflammation.
Their hope is to develop a medication that can reverse S100B levels in the brain, which might actually reverse a brain’s tendency to become depressive.
These findings up an exciting, new frontier in depression research. For many people with depression, this opens the possibility to control and treat their disease with a variety of lifestyle and nutrition changes.
Congratulations on taking the time to learn about this new research. We encourage you to implement these changes in your own life, and share the results with friends and family.
If you have any questions about the correlation between inflammation and depression, or if you have success stories about depression treatment via natural methods, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Fries, D. (2017). The New Connection Between Depression and Our Gut. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/food-medicine/2017/06/new-connection-between-depression-gut/