Last year a close friend came to me and described how she was constantly depressed with low energy, uncontrollable sugar and coffee cravings.
She also described that both her parents were on medications for depression and had battled this condition for years. She had been prescribed antidepressants by her doctor but didn’t want to spend her lifetime on prescription medication.
This woman was a former ballerina and National Fitness Champion who had followed intense dieting and structured meal plans for years. She was fit, intelligent, and determined to find a way out of this situation.
If you or a loved one has ever experienced depression before, you know very well what a trying period this can be. You feel hopeless that you’ll ever find relief and even worse, lack the energy to try.
This is coupled with the fact that doctors are all too quick to prescribe antidepressant medications to just about anyone complaining of depression-like symptoms.
Not only do these meds not always work, but worse, they can come with a whole host of unwanted side effects.
Nausea, weight gain, loss of libido, dry mouth, insomnia, irritability, and constipation are all the things you have to look forward to when starting most antidepressant medications. Excited yet? This alone is enough to send most people spiraling into an even greater state of depression.
Now however, there may be new hope – hope that you can sidestep all of these negative symptoms while actually improving your health and getting your mood back up.
A recent study published in the journal of Nutrition took a look at the influence probiotic usage had on those suffering from depression and the results proved to be quite promising.
Probiotics: A Natural Treatment?
The study took a group of 40 patients, all of who were suffering from clinical depression, and had them supplement with probiotics for a period of 8 weeks. Diet was otherwise held constant between both the test group as well as the controls.
At the end of the trial, researchers noted that of those using the probiotics, their Beck Depression Inventory score was significantly decreased compared to that of the placebo group.
Along with this, they also showed signs of lowered insulin levels and decreased measures of insulin resistance.
This illustrated that not only did the probiotics appear to reduce the severity of their depressive symptoms, but they also improved their health.
As insulin resistance (or lack of insulin sensitivity) is associated with metabolic syndrome X, a syndrome that puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, the patients significantly benefited from the trial supplementation.
Since probiotics are adding to your health, long term usage can allow you to side-step unwanted side effects. Most users will adhere better, thus their overall treatment for their depression will move along faster and more effectively.
Remember my friend at the start of this article.
I put her on a high dosage of an extremely aggressive single strain of probiotics for a period of 90 days. At first, she noticed in just a few days a reduction of sugar cravings.
Within a week she saw an increase in the frequency and a positive change in the consistency of her bowel movements.
A few weeks later she was back in the gym and cutting back on her coffee consumption.
After 2 months, she began to notice which foods agitated her stomach or upset her moods and began to make a list to avoid them.
After 3 months she felt confident that she didn’t need her antidepressant medication which she had been forgetting to take. She went to her doctor and got the doctor’s approval to go off the medication.
It’s now been over a year and she was able to go back to school, finish a diploma in nutrition, balance her nutrition, and start her own business.
Best of all she doesn’t feel depressed or the need for medication. Every now and then she has some what she calls “fun foods” that would send her moods crashing in the past without any side effects.
This story is quite common for people who struggle with gut health challenges. Let’s dive a little deeper into why and how bacteria affect your brain.
The Microbiome And Your Brain
This isn’t the first time awareness that has been raised regarding probiotics and mental health.
Back in 2013, in a study published in the Trends In Neurosciences journal, researchers noted that microbiota are very important for normal healthy brain function.
The scientists running this study commented that changes in microbiota may influence stress-related behaviours and could be linked to increased feelings of both depression as well as anxiety.
With an ever-increasing use of antibiotics in today’s society, it’s not uncommon to find people who have an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria residing in their gut.
Looking Closer At Those With IBS
Furthermore, a study published in Neurogastroenterology & Motility also noted that patients who suffer from IBS are far more likely to also suffer from depression and anxiety states, indicating a possible connection between the two.
It is not clear what comes first – the depression or the IBS symptoms, however in either case, adding healthy bacteria to those who are suffering could help clear up both health issues, getting the individual on track to feeling better.
Hope For Anxiety
In addition to assisting with the low feelings of depression, probiotics may also help to treat and manage anxiety as well, which can be closely linked or even paired with feelings of depression.
One study published in the journal of Gut Pathogens noted that supplementing with probiotics in those who were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome showed a reduction in anxiety and emotional symptoms associated with this condition.
Interestingly, the researchers also noted that many chronic fatigue patients also complain of gastrointestinal disturbances, so here again, you see the strong connection between gut health and emotional health.
While more research is still underway to fully assess the link between gut health and emotional health, all of this information is providing great hope that there may be an alternative manner of dealing with depression and other mood-related issues that don’t come with a whole host of unwanted side effects, but rather, improve health instead.
Akkasheh, Ghodarz, et al. “Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Nutrition (2015).
Foster, Jane A., and Karen-Anne McVey Neufeld. “Gut–brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression.” Trends in neurosciences36.5 (2013): 305-312.
Dinan, T. G., and J. F. Cryan. “Melancholic microbes: a link between gut microbiota and depression?.” Neurogastroenterology & Motility 25.9 (2013): 713-719.
Rao, A. Venket, et al. “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.” Gut Pathogens 1.1 (2009): 1.