Do you realize how powerful the impact that food can have on your health? A study from February 2017 suggests that eating more fruits and vegetables on a regular basis can boost your mood and improve your physiological well-being in as little as two weeks’ time. That’s pretty amazing. Another study from January 2017 suggests that the probiotics found in yogurt may be an effective tool to reverse depression symptoms.
If you’ve been keeping pace with health headlines, then you know that the medical community now recognizes the important role the your gut microbes play when it comes to overall health and risk of developing a number of medical conditions, including obesity. Gut microbe imbalance is now being valued as a strong influencer on a range of health conditions. In fact, doctors now regularly recommend that a patient take a probiotic course, along with any course of antibiotics, because antibiotics “kill off” the bad bacteria they target, as well as beneficial bacteria found in the gut.
This research recognized that depression can often run in families. The researchers attribute a familial genetic component as partially explaining the heightened risk, but they also wanted to look at the microbiome or gut bacteria imbalance, as a possible cause. Knowing that stress, especially chronic stress, can increase the risk of developing depression, the researchers aimed to see if the microbiome somehow participates in this physiologic phenomenon.
The researchers exposed mice in the lab to stress. When they then examined the gut microbes in the mice, they discovered lowered levels of Lactobacillus. The onset of depression seemed to occur when the levels of Lactobacillus declined. When the mice were fed cultures of the Lactobacillus in their food, their mood appeared to return to normal and signs of depression disappeared.
The mechanism at play appears to be the influence that Lactobacillus has on a particular metabolite in the blood, kynurenine, which is directly implicated as a “driver of depression.” When the levels of Lactobacillus went down, levels of kynurenine went up and depression seemed to be instigated. The researchers were particularly excited over the clear results because they had performed several different experiments and different settings looking at changes in microbiome balance and impact. This specific study showed consistent results and outcomes when repeated.
The lead researcher cautioned that the symptoms being observed in the mice are widely accepted by the science community as “depressive-like behavior,” and “despair behavior,” as mice can’t actually verbally confirm feelings of depression. The next step planned is to explore the role of kynurenine in people and see how it influences behaviors. Kynurenine is associated with inflammation and depression, but it’s still unclear how the metabolite affects the brain directly.
It seems clear from the mouse study that eating yogurt on a regular basis, with its live active Lactobacillus cultures, and possibly even taking a probiotic that contains the Lactobacillus strain, might be a reasonable step for someone at risk of developing depression (due to familial circumstance or life circumstance). A regular habit of consuming yogurt and probiotics is now considered sound nutrition. If it helps to prevent or limit mild to moderate depression among its many benefits, then why not make it a new food habit?
There are other foods recognized as mood-boosting or mood-stabilizing and they include:
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and sardines
- Whole grain carbohydrates that increase levels of serotonin, one of the chemicals in our body responsible for elevating our mood
- Flaxseed, rich in omega 3 fatty acids
- Beans, rich in vitamin B6
- Dark chocolate (small serving), which may help to lower stress
- Fruits, vegetables, and whole foods
- Eggs, full of mood-boosting minerals
- Saffron, often used in rice dishes, may help to limit mood swings and depression by elevating serotonin
If you are being treated for depression, you need to have a conversation with your health practitioner about using a nutritional approach. Never stop prescribed medications for a condition like depression without consulting with your mental health professional.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is "Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle."