Have you heard the saying that the gut is the second brain?
It turns out, there’s a very strong connection between the two, which is why the root of anxiety, depression, and other mood imbalances often lies in the gut microbiome.
Even more importantly, we’ve seen that overcoming anxiety and depression naturally is possible if you treat the underlying gut issues. In many cases you can even eliminate the need for medications.
Let’s take a look at how the two are linked, the most common underlying issues to look out for, and how to restore balance naturally (including the #1 thing NOT to do).
How Your Mood & Microbiome Are Connected
Your gut actually contains an estimated 100 million neurons, which are connected to your brain via a two-way street called the vagus nerve.
It’s where a huge number of your neurotransmitters are produced, including 90% of your serotonin. It’s also where a lot of short-chain fatty acids are produced and where you metabolize bile acids and amino acids, all of which impact brain health.
And let’s not forget that your gut is where you also digest and absorb all of the nutrients needed for brain and mood function.
However, all of this isn’t happening in a vacuum! Your gut is also home to trillions of microbes, mostly bacteria, but also fungi, viruses, and parasites. These organisms form a diverse ecosystem known as your gut microbiome and they are responsible for all of the functions we just talked about.
As you can imagine, if there’s an imbalance in these microbes, there can be BIG consequences for your brain and mood.
4 Gut Microbiome Imbalances Linked to Anxiety & Depression
Here are the most common causes of these imbalances that I see in my patients.
1. Gut Infections
Candida, which is a type of fungus, can specifically coat the lining of your digestive tract and interfere with serotonin production. It also releases chemicals that are toxic to your brain, and thanks to your vagus nerve they have a direct pathway to trigger depression and anxiety, as well as brain fog and memory issues.
SIBO and parasites both interfere with digestion and lead to nutrient deficiencies, including B12 and other mood-regulating vitamins.
2. Digestive Deficiencies
There are lots of ingredients needed for proper digestion, such as HCL, bile acids, and digestive enzymes which are produced at every stop in your digestive system, including your mouth, stomach, small intestine, pancreas and gallbladder.
When you’re low in any of these foundational elements, you can’t digest your food properly, which can cause organisms to overgrow and can also lead to nutrient deficiencies linked to anxiety and depression.
3. Stress & Toxins
The mental and chemical stressors in your environment can also disrupt digestion, kill off good microbes, and leave you vulnerable to gut infections.
These include mental or emotional stress, pesticides, GMOs, and plastics, and even certain medications like Motrin, antibiotics, and antacids.
4. Leaky Gut
Restoring Microbiome Balance & Overcoming Anxiety and Depression Naturally
So how can you go about overcoming anxiety and depression naturally by restoring a balanced microbiome?
Let’s start with what NOT to do. You DON’T want to just take a probiotic and call it a day. Yes, these supplements, which contain “good” strains of gut bacteria, are one piece of the puzzle and they can certainly help. But as I just mentioned, there are a LOT of factors involved in digestive health.
To get real results, you need a top-down approach that looks at the entire digestive tract to pinpoint where the issues are occurring. This requires getting the right testing and then developing a personalized treatment protocol based on the findings.
If you’re ready for this type of comprehensive partnership, with a team to support you and hold you accountable, I’d love to work with you in my clinic, GrassRoots Functional Medicine.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!