Depression, anxiety, and even obesity are all linked with your gut bacteria. This means that in order to best support your mental and physical health, you need to tend to the rich and diverse “garden” of trillions of bacteria in your digestive tract.
The composition of these strains or gut bacteria, or our “bacterial fingerprint,” can determine whether we are at risk for depression, anxiety, or obesity.
The composition of your gut bacteria can make you fat
Studies show overweight people have higher levels of particular strains of bacteria than thin people. When researchers inoculated fat mice with the bacteria from then mice, the fat mice lost weight. When they inoculated thin mice with bacteria from heavy mice, the skinny mice became fat. Fat-promoting bacteria have been shown to encourage overeating, promote weight gain, and prevent fat burning.
Proper diet and exercise are still fundamental, but these findings may help explain why some people struggle with their weight when others are naturally thin.
The link between gut bacteria and depression and anxiety
If you suffer from depression or anxiety, your gut bacteria may play a role. The right composition of gut bacteria promotes the production of serotonin, which is our “feel-good” brain chemical that prevents depression.
Likewise, too much bad gut bacteria promote depression and anxiety. This is because a large nerve called the vagus nerve travels between the gut and the brain, carrying communication in either direction. When overgrowths of harmful bacteria are damaging the intestinal environment, the effects of the inflammation travel to the brain, impacting brain function and mood.
In one study, subjects who took probiotics containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium showed less anxiety, depression, and anger and improved problem solving. In another study, mice given a Lactobacillus strain successfully navigated a maze that caused anxiety in the mice not given probiotics.
How to cultivate good gut bacteria
Although banishing obesity, depression, and anxiety isn’t as easy as adding probiotics to your regimen, the new research shows how important gut bacteria is to overall health. To encourage good gut bacteria, avoid a diet filled with sweets and sugars, processed foods, and fast foods. These foods damage and inflame the intestinal walls, promoting overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeasts.
What’s more important is to eat a diet made up primarily of produce. Make the bulk of every meal vegetables, even breakfast. Enjoy fruits for dessert instead of ice cream of candy.
Cultured food and fiber promotes good gut bacteria
You can also promote bacterial diversity by including foods that have been cultured, or fermented. Examples include kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables. If you buy them at the store, make sure they are truly fermented and not made with vinegar, or pasteurized, which kills bacteria.
Probiotics for obesity, depression, and anxiety
Although scientists don’t yet know how to engineer the right composition of gut bacteria to address depression, anxiety, or obesity, it’s not a bad idea to ensure good health with the addition of probiotics. Ask my office for advice on a probiotic that’s right for you.
Dr. David B. Tuchinsky, D.C., PLLC
St. Augustine Functional Medicine Practitioner, Speaker and Author
Direct any questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org