Change your Diet…to Change your Gut Bacteria…to Change your Mind…to Change your Mood!
Anxiety and depression are two bad be-yotches. (We reserve the word b*tch for our beloved female dog). Winston Churchill famously labeled his terrible bouts of depression his “black dog.”
Before I learned the Transcendental Meditation technique, it was not unusual for me to go through days, weeks, and even months of incapacitating depression. Having been depression-free for many years now is one of the many benefits of my TM practice. According to the World Health Organization, between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from incapacitating depression and/or anxiety rose from 416 million to 615 million, with 10 percent of the world’s population now affected.
Pulitzer Prize winning author William Styron wrote, “The gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain.” Deeply rooted in chronic stress, depression often results in insomnia, withdrawal, apathy, hormone imbalance, self-neglect, self-harm, and even suicide.
My experience of severe anxiety began as if I was being stealthily stalked, not so much by a black dog as by an anaconda. Finding myself suddenly frantic and helpless in its grip, no matter what I did or how I tried to direct my thoughts, I started to experience wild, irrational, and overwhelming fear—of death, a terrible death.
Anxiety is more than stress. While stress is also often accompanied by insomnia and hormone imbalance, anxiety symptoms go further to include high blood pressure, emotional instability (to the point of panic), and reduced ability to cope with daily life.
There are a variety of pills to help combat anxiety and depression. But, given the opportunity, who would not prefer a truly natural remedy, of equal or better efficacy, and without the possibility of nasty side effects?
Two excellent articles have already appeared in Elephant Journal:
Who would have guessed that our gut bacteria could alter our emotions? They also affect food cravings, and how well or poorly we react to stress. Since the single most important factor that changes our gut bacteria is what we eat, these two articles seem to have a common solution: change your diet and lifestyle to change your microbiome, and reap the benefits of improved physical and mental health.
It turns out that the health of the trillions of friendly bacteria inside each of us is essential for our happiness. It is dead wrong to dismiss anxiety, hopelessness, or depression by saying, “it’s all in your head,” for it is also in your gut—and there certainly is such a thing as a “gut feeling.” Research demonstrates that our microbiome produces a wide range of powerful biochemicals, including hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as compounds that turn our genes on and off (epigenetic effects)—all of which affect our physiology and psychology.
The latest studies reveal that the microbiome can directly affect our brain. It does this in several ways, including creating leaks in the vital blood-brain barrier, and affecting molecular biological mechanisms in key areas of the brain like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are critical parts of the neural circuits that underlie depression, anxiety, and fear-related behavior.
What this means is that our microbiome is vital to our mental health. Improving our gut health through probiotics or psychobiotics can improve our mental state, and even treat psychiatric disorders.
Recent review studies confirm this conclusion:
>> Probiotic supplementation can positively affect anxiety and depressive symptoms
>> Probiotics significantly decreased depression in both the healthy population and patients with major depressive disorder
>> Probiotics in animal and human studies improve psychiatric disorder-related behaviors including anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and memory abilities (both spatial and non-spatial)
The most important steps to help your gut repair itself include:
And since stress is so significant in both anxiety and depression, it’s a good idea to add:
>> Meditation (we recommend one of the most thoroughly researched techniques in the world, Transcendental Meditation, to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression)
>> Healthy relationships
As our perspective grows, it becomes clear that first, we are all part of a larger ecology that includes friendly bacteria, and second, these relatively simple recommendations can benefit us enormously.
Real hope for overcoming anxiety and depression comes from modern and ancient sources. Science has begun to understand the connection between the microbiome and our brain, while ancient traditional systems of health, such as Ayurveda, offer time-tested knowledge about diet and lifestyle, which can greatly improve our physical health and mental and emotional well-being.
Wallace, Robert Keith and Samantha Wallace. Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind. Dharma Publications, 2017.
Author: Samantha & Robert Wallace
Image: Xavier Sotomayor/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May