by Dr. David Minkoff September 24, 2020 5 min read
Physicians over thousands of years have observed a link between a patient’s mental state and how swiftly they recover. It is a long-standing axiom that people who are determined to get better and maintain a healthy frame of mind recover more quickly, with better results.
But what if we told you that it’s a two-way street? That specific health conditions can cause conditions like depression and anxiety?
In 1931, decades before the first antidepressant and antianxiety medications had been developed, a physician named Yaskin discovered that clinical depression is the earliest manifestation of pancreatic cancer. Further research demonstrated that patients who suffered from gastrointestinal malignancies carried the greatest risk of suicide – which was one of the first science-based flags indicating that the digestive system can have an impact on mental health.
Modern studies have shown that any number of physiological problems and pathologies associated with the digestive system either cause or greatly increase the risk of both depression and anxiety.
A recent psychiatric study of 2,091 patients in primary care clinics throughout the United States provided the following statistics:
In other words, patients who suffered from digestive problems were significantly more likely to be depressed or anxious – and to be diagnosed as such.
Now, let’s take this a step further. Imagine that your child suffered from a common digestive disorder but didn’t talk about it – or didn’t know how to. In school, they are brought before a psychiatric counselor and subsequently diagnosed and prescribed medication to “manage” the condition – but not without the serious side effects of the medication. But, in truth, all that was needed was to treat the underlying digestive problem.
In this article we are going to help you understand this link between digestive health and depression, common risks, and what you can do about it.
Sound good? Read on.
As you may know, your body maintains several lines of communication, with your brain as the central hub. The gut-brain axis (GBA) is a series of communication pathways between your gastrointestinal system and your brain. In a healthy, functioning body, these pathways allow your body to make vital changes to both your mental state and condition based on environmental stressors, including the food you eat.
Visible manifestations of the GBA include phenomena such as feeling sick after hearing bad news or loss, feeling butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous, and even the total lack of hunger when you are in high-stress environments or engaged in an athletic pursuit.
And while the most evident manifestations of the GBA are those where your mood or environment affects your digestion, it is a two-way street.
Emerging research continues to provide evidence that your gut flora has a direct impact on your emotional and mental state. Varying levels of specific bacteria in the gut have become associated with:
This same research has shown that probiotics and nutrition to correct and repair non-optimal gut flora causes significant reduction in the adverse mental symptoms associated with GI troubles.
Furthermore, several GI conditions are known to increase your chances of experiencing some degree of a mental disorder, including:
So, while GI troubles are not the only cause of mental disorders, don’t you think it is worth addressing your digestive system before resorting to medication? We sure do.
One of the most significant factors that contributes to depression in modern times is the use, and especially abuse, of antibiotics.
To understand this, we need to consider the function of antibiotics. There are hundreds of common antibiotics on the market, some of which target specific strains and bacteria, while others are broad spectrum. In any case, they perform the function of killing or neutralizing bacteria.
And while that sounds helpful in theory, the problem is that antibiotics are unable to differentiate between the good and bad bacteria in your system. They have no guidance system, and they obliterate all types of bacteria, good and bad.
While this function of antibiotics can be lifesaving in the case of infections, it is highly disruptive to the digestive system. According to modern research:
And here’s the kicker: According to the CDC, one third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.
A perfect example of this is a recent case with an elderly patient who suffered from dementia. He developed an infection, and the hospital put him through five courses of antibiotics to treat it and restore his health. They paid little-to-no attention to the effect this had on his digestive system, and suddenly he became a “difficult” patient who was mentally stressed and upset. I’m sure you can put the pieces together.
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, antibiotics have further been associated with the following symptoms:
All this is not to say that antibiotics are all bad. They are lifesaving in many cases – and if you need them, then by all means – take them. But remember the effects they can have on your digestive system and DO something about it to combat the harm they do.
How? By resupplying your digestive system with what it needs to stay healthy. The most important thing you can do when taking antibiotics (and for many weeks or months afterward) is to resupply your digestive system with good bacteria by taking probiotics.
Probiotics are, as their name suggests, good bacteria that you can get from food and supplements. They resupply your digestive system to restore a healthy gut flora and bring your brain-gut axis back into balance.
You can get probiotics from fermented foods, such as yogurt and kimchi, and digestive supplements. Fermented foods often contain one primary strain of health bacteria called Lactobacillus, while high-quality supplements often contain ten or more strains.
In either case, taking probiotics as part of your antibiotic treatment can not only reduce the mental effects of the medication, but they can also help you maintain digestive health for the long term.
Evolving science continues to demonstrate the importance of maintaining a healthy, functioning digestive system. It not only impacts every system in your body, but it also affects your mental state and ability to live and thrive in today’s challenging world.
If you or a loved one are suffering from depression or anxiety, there is a good chance that it may be the result of digestive trouble. Check into it before taking extreme measures.
Whatever you do, please remember to give your gut the support it needs – you just might be shocked by the positive effects a healthy functioning gut and gut flora can have on your overall physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing!
by Dr. David Minkoff
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