Everyone feels a bit down from time to time. And we all experience some anxiety occasionally. But if your “every once in a while” starts happening more often, your doctor may suggest putting you on an antidepressant.
Before you submit to popping those heavy-duty pills, which come with a spotty track record, let’s talk about your gut. Because scientists now say, mood issues—from anxiety to depression—often begin in our bellies.
A growing stack of studies has highlighted the link between our brains and our gut bacteria. For example, an Oxford University study found that prebiotics designed to boost healthy gut bugs were able to reduce anxiety in healthy adults.1
And now a new study, conducted at the University of Cork in Ireland, has shed even more light on the connection between anxiety, depression and our gut flora.2
The researchers found that mice bred in germ-free conditions had measurable differences in areas of their brains that play a role in anxiety and depression. And as a result, they were significantly more likely to develop symptoms of both.
Plus the bacteria-free critters had more cognitive problems and trouble socializing, then mice with normal gut bacteria.
Slash anxiety and depression with healthy gut flora
But the good news for those who struggle with mood problems from time to time is the effect appears to be reversible. When the researchers introduced bacteria to the guts of germ-free mice, they saw improvements in their brains.
In other words, you may be able to tackle your own case of the blues, or mild anxiety, by restoring and then protecting your gut flora.
Following are four gut-supporting steps which could help fix your belly AND your brain.
1. Detox your diet:
If you want healthy gut bacteria, you can start with a healthy diet. If you’re eating lots of processed foods, sugars and artificial sweeteners, you’re creating a toxic environment for your good gut bugs, or probiotics.
Artificial dyes, fillers and chemicals can knock your gut flora off balance. And sugar can trigger inflammation that spreads from your gut throughout the rest of your body, including your brain.
You can create a bacteria-friendly environment be detoxing your diet.
Make the switch to a healthier diet filled with fresh, organic, whole foods to reduce your toxic load. And slash inflammation by cutting back on the sugar in your diet. These changes will support a healthy gut AND a healthy mood, reducing anxiety and depression.
2. Eat bacteria-friendly foods:
Inflammation is the enemy of a balanced gut. But the typical Western diet is packed with far too many inflammation promoting omega-6s and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Create a better balance by eating more omega-3 rich foods, such as wild-caught fish and flaxseeds.
But don’t stop there. Feed your gut plenty of fiber-rich foods and healthy fats to support healthy digestion. And eat more fermented foods—such as Greek yogurt, kefir, tempeh and traditional “homemade” sauerkraut—which are naturally rich in beneficial bacteria.
3. Stress less and sleep more:
It’s not just diet that effects your gut bug balance. Other outside factors, such as how much stress you’re under or how much sleep you’re getting, can mess with your gut bugs too.
Experts say chronic stress can cause your gut flora to become imbalanced. And burning the candle at both ends ramps up inflammation, which can also wreak havoc with your bacterial balance.
To support your gut bacteria reduce your stress levels. And commit to at least seven hours of quality sleep a night.
Need some help getting started? Check out our report 6 simple solutions to overcome worry and relieve stress.
4. Pop the RIGHT pills:
One of the worst things you can do to your gut flora balance is to take an antibiotic. These drugs kill off every bug in their path, wiping out your good bugs right along with the bad. And while an antibiotic is necessary sometimes, all too often they’re overused.
Antibiotics won’t fight viruses so don’t bother taking them for a cold or flu. And if you have a minor infection, you might want to try a “natural antibiotic” first.
If you do need to take a course of antibiotics, be sure to follow them up with probiotics for at least two weeks after. But I suggest you consider taking a daily prebiotic and probiotic supplement regardless.
If you occasionally battle anxiety and depression, try fixing your brain by fixing your gut first. Follow these four steps to restore your belly bug balance and your mood right along with it.
1. “Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers,” Psychopharmacology, May 2015, Volume 232, Issue 10, pp 1793–1801
2. “Microbial regulation of microRNA expression in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex,” Microbiome, 2017, 5:102