From the belly to the brain, what role does microbiota have when it comes to depression? Ashleigh Hamilton, Accredited Practicing Dietitian from Nourishing Minds, investigates.
I believe (and the science is starting to back me up) that a healthy diet has the potential to improve mental health. Previously we have focused on things like good fats and antioxidants to improve your brain health, but recently, we are learning more and more about the gut and the potential link it has with our brain.
I’m sure you have heard the phrase “trust your gut” or “gut instinct”, and we all get “butterflies” when we are nervous. It’s easy to understand that our brain can influence our gut, so it shouldn’t feel like too much of a stretch to think that our gut could influence our brain. This is what we call the “gut brain axis”.
It’s easy to understand that our brain can influence our gut, so it shouldn’t feel like too much of a stretch to think that our gut could influence our brain.
How does the gut-brain axis work?
Our gut and our brain talk to each other through a few different channels including our nerves, hormones and even our immune system. The microbiome (bacteria living in our gut) can also use these channels to send messages to our brain. The microbiome produce molecules, like short chain fatty acids, amino acids and neurotransmitters, that act as signals that can be detected by the brain.
What about mental health?
An altered microbiome (that is, more of the “bad” bacteria”) has been linked to a number of conditions like autism, Parkinson’s disease and mood disorders like depression. A study found recently that aspects of our Western Style diet can negatively impact certain bacteria in the microbiome which are associated with cognitive impairments and poor cognitive flexibility.
There has been a lot of new research recently specifically looking at depression. A recent study found that supplementing with a probiotic helped to reduce depressive-like behaviour (in rats) regardless of the diet they were having. So while it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet, something as simple as adding some more good bacteria into your gut can be enough to help with depressive symptoms. The lactobacillus bacteria (found in PERKii) has also recently been shown to be reduced in chronically stressed mice with despair behaviours, and by increasing the number of this bacteria, these behaviours improved. It is thought that having sufficient lactobacillus in our gut can contribute to emotional resilience during stress.
It is thought that having sufficient lactobacillus in our gut can contribute to emotional resilience during stress.
The good news is that you can change your gut microbiome in just a week! So if you are worried your gut isn’t as healthy as it could be, you can improve it in no time! Taking a probiotic (like PERKii) is a great way to make sure that you have the good bacteria in there, but you also need to feed your bacteria. This is done by eating lots of plant based foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
With one in five Australians developing a mental illness, it’s just as important to nourish your mind as it is your body.
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Ashleigh Hamilton APD
Ashleigh Hamilton is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian who is passionate about the relationship between nutrition and mental health. Ashleigh focuses on a whole of body approach to health, encompassing both physical and mental aspects, and believes that moderation and balance are vital to creating meaningful change.
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