Are You There, Gut? It’s Me, Depression
What does the gut have to do with depression, and how can you convince your gut to lead you in a positive direction? If those are questions on your mind today, you came to the right place. We’ve dealt with all sorts of issues related to wellness and beauty on NMDL, and what’s more beautiful than a healthy body, mind and spirit? And we know, they all go together.
To be clear, I’m not claiming to be an expert on depression – I’m speaking from my own experience, in the hope that it will resonate with others and possibly help someone. I’ve chosen to deal with mental health issues without medication, and mostly without any professional intervention whatsoever, but I’m not suggesting that’s the right path for everyone. Do what you must to be healthy.*
I may be particularly prone to the mental health issues that mirror gut health – I have a long personal and family history of mental illness. But, here’s the thing that I think applies to everyone – depressed or not, medicated or not, in therapy or not. You need a healthy gut to be healthy. From your brain to your heart to your skin, and all stops in between, poor gut function and the associated inappropriate inflammatory responses that result can literally kill you, or at least make you miserable. Let’s make some connections.
Things like a poor diet, overuse of antibiotics, and stress can lead to dysbiosis – an imbalance in gut microorganisms where there are more bad guys than good guys. This can lead to changes in the lining of the gut that make it “leaky.” Things that should not cross the barrier, such as bacteria and undigested food, cross into your blood, producing inappropriate inflammatory responses and leaving you with autoimmune disorders, food allergies, acne, joint pain, and more. I’ve really oversimplified for the sake of brevity. For additional information, try this website (it explains medical tests as well). Here, and here, you’ll find books that cover leaky gut from hormonal and weight loss perspectives (I don’t care for the way the books are marketed, but I have them both and they do have useful information).
For me, symptoms of leaky gut include bloating, weight gain, feeling generally lousy, skin problems, fuzzy brain, and depression. My digestive symptoms are obvious and appear within hours and may last several days, likewise with skin issues (blemishes, itching, rashes). My depressive symptoms shadow the digestive and skin problems. In addition to experiencing guilt or shame that anyone with food/eating issues might after a “bad food day,” I have a clear change in my thought patterns and ability to function. Without airing every detail, I feel paralyzed. Everything is hard. General chores like keeping the house clean, scooping the litter box, and dealing with other people’s annoying issues shift from being necessities of adult life to seemingly impossible tasks. Things I usually love, like yoga and other exercise, become chores. I don’t feel joy, there’s only crappy, crappier, and crying-heap-on-the-floor. At best, I’m not very efficient at home, and easily thrown by anything that makes life a bit harder. Let me try an example of what this is like. My functioning brain can encounter an unexpected dirty dish in the sink when I’m about to make breakfast, feel minor annoyance at my thoughtless husband and/or son, and either wash it or work around it. My depressed brain can take an extra several hours to get going on my day because of that dirty dish (I know it’s not really about the dish, but that’s not what this post is about). It can get much worse than this – I’ve lived many days barely hanging onto a sliver of sanity. But, here’s the good news: healing my leaky gut significantly improves my depression. I become more functional and my days are more akin to what I imagine people without depression experience, basic ups and downs.
I want to note here that it might not be easy to recognize the symptoms of depression in others or even yourself. I am, usually, practically a superhero at work, and I don’t think there’s anyone that I haven’t specifically told about my depression that would know. I guess my point is, even if you wouldn’t really define yourself as depressed, if you don’t feel “quite right,” it’s possible leaky gut is playing a role.
What can you do to heal a leaky gut? To keep it simple, I’ll stick to the food perspective…
- Conventionally raised animal products
- Grains (including those that don’t contain gluten)
- Excessive sugar
Eat more of these:
- Sprouted nuts and seeds
- Fermented foods
- Raw, non-starchy vegetables
The books I linked above explain the whys behind the foods to eat and those best to avoid. Basically, grass-fed or pastured animal products are better for the gut. Some people are really into grass-fed bone broth for gut healing. I personally avoid animal products altogether (except a bit of local raw honey). If you must eat grains, sprouted will probably do better for you, but if you really want to deal with leaky gut I’d get off them for at least a while. Nuts and seeds can have some of the same issues as grains, so I eat only sprouted. Sprouting deals with the so-called anti-nutrients (lectins, phytates, and digestive enzyme inhibitors). Lectins stimulate inflammation, phytates decrease mineral absorption, and all three may cause leaky gut and dysbiosis.
I know that I’ll be okay if I keep my gut healthy, because I was for several years, until a time of particular stress set me on a path of making less than ideal food choices, and then it spiraled. Within a day, I experience positive effects of eating a gut-healthy diet, a week is better, and I expect if I can be consistent in a few months I’ll be my version of normal. In spite of the fact that I know exactly what I need to do to feel better, it can be hard. I’ve begun supporting myself with additional, simple acts of self-care and seeking help. I’ve added some digestive-supporting superfoods/supplements from Sun Potion to my routine**, and have been going to weekly acupuncture sessions that include digestive support.
Do you, or do you think you might, have leaky gut? What do you experience, and what helps?
*if you are on medication, don’t go off without professional supervision
**more on this another time