Anxiety? Depression? Is Your Gut Microbiome to Blame?
If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or depression, you know firsthand the toll it can take on your wellbeing and productivity – even getting through the day can be tough. Being anxious and depressed is much more than an inconvenience – it takes a toll on your health, causing you to get sick, lowering your immunity, and can even prevent you from recovering.
Though we've been told depression and anxiety are chemical imbalances of the brain, cutting-edge research is revealing a new player in the game: the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome contains 100 trillion microorganisms that influence our wellbeing in significant ways. In fact, it’s hard to think of one chronic disease that has not been associated with an imbalance in the gut microbiome at some level. This imbalance is know as dysbiosis. It seems as though when someone is sick there are always menacing microbes lurking in the shadows.
Day-to-day, the microbiome is involved in most, if not all, biological processes and signalling in the brain is no exception.1 We are starting to understand that along the gut-brain axis, there is constant communication between the gut and brain travelling along the vagus nerve.
If you think the brain is doing most of the talking, think again.
It turns out the microbiome has a lot to say, through the use of neurotransmitters, hormones, proteins, and other communication factors to talk to your brain. Your microbes influence how you feel, your emotions, and your happiness in a very real and tangible way.
Find this surprising? We have all experienced this gut-brain chatter firsthand. Think about how you felt before your last first date, when you sat down to take a big test, or when you were up next to give a speech to a large crowd. You probably experienced...
A knot in your stomach
A sense of unease in your gut
The feelings you get in your stomach are much more than minor sensations, they are your gut directly communicating with your brain and vice versa.
So, how does this work exactly?
How does your gut microbiome communicate with your brain?
What's going on down there?
And most importantly – what can you do to improve your gut microbiome, so you’re happier and healthier?
How Your Gut Influences Your Brain
Up until now we've been giving credit or putting the blame on the brain for our moods and emotions – but we’ve seriously underestimated the gut microbiome.
First, to completely understand how the gut influences the brain, let’s take a step back and familiarize ourselves with the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) runs thousands of automatic functions which are constantly running in the background.
Easy enough to remember – autonomic = automatic.
Your autonomic nervous system has two parts:
Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – Your sympathetic nervous system is primarily responsible for your fight-or-flight reactions. The SNS is vital to your survival and ramps up when needed – the problem in today’s world, is the SNS tends to stay in hyper-drive due to things like traffic, stress at work, and even finding out you missed out on a friend’s birthday dinner.
Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – Your parasympathetic nervous system influences repair systems throughout the body. The PNS is associated with “rest-and-digest” and feelings of connection, love, and friendship. Your PNS works to offset the SNS.
Then there is your enteric nervous system (ENS), which is a massive mesh-like network of neurons that is embedded in the wall of your gastrointestinal tract. Your enteric nervous system receives signals from both your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. This is important because your ENS should be receiving and giving signals from both the sympathetic and parasympathetic evenly – symmetrical signals keep you feeling balanced. When one dominates, the sympathetic for example, you can feel stuck in “fight-or-flight” feelings.
Your ENS communicates with your central nervous system via the vagus nerve.2 Your vagus nerve is the direct line of communication between your gut microbiome and your brain. Interestingly, your enteric nervous system has more nerve endings than your spinal cord even though it exists mostly within your gut. The ENS is responsible for creating and moving neurotransmitters, with about 95 percent of serotonin being produced by nerves and microbes in the gut!3
Your ENS has even been labeled “your second brain” because of its power over your emotions. The lines between the gut and the brain are more blurred than we’ve ever realized before.
Your Gut Microbiome – The Missing Link In Anxiety and Depression
There are four major ways your gut microbiome can contribute to anxiety and depression, including:
By influencing your stress response
Through making your gut “leaky”
By causing chronic inflammation
Through producing harmful peptides
Did you know your gut microbiome influences your stress response?
From an early age, your gut microbiome modulates your stress response. As you get older, changes in the health of your gut microbiome affects how you respond to stressors. Understanding how the gut microbiome influences psychological outcomes is powerful, it’s the newest and fastest growing area of research for therapies in psychiatric disorders.4
Can you imagine a future where anxiety and depression is treated through the gut? Get ready, this future is becoming a reality!
Is your gut microbiome making your gut leaky?
Scientists have found that when there is a change in the composition of the gut microbiome, it can cause problems such as leaky gut. Leaky gut is when the cells lining your gut aren’t stuck together as tightly as they could be, allowing proteins, viruses, bacteria, and more to leak out of the gastrointestinal tract and into the bloodstream.
A leaky gut can cause the ENS (which is mostly in the gut wall, remember) and central nervous system to have a dysfunctional conversation. As you can imagine, these miscommunications can contribute to poor cognitive function and improper emotional responses.5
It’s like when you have poor cell reception and you can’t quite hear what the other person is trying to tell you.
Is your gut microbiome causing chronic inflammation?
Another way gut microbes can influence anxiety and depression is by causing chronic inflammation, which is promoted by harmful microbes. This occurs when these malicious microbes outcompete the beneficial bugs in the gut.
When these harmful gut inhabitants takeover and cause inflammation, it can activate the vagus nerve leading to neuropsychological symptoms.5
Are your gut peptides telling your brain that you’re stressed?
On top of this, harmful bacteria can also create peptides known to send stress signals. These can affect gene expression and your central nervous system – adding to your neurological symptoms.6 Your gut peptide concentrations are determined by the composition of your gut microbiome, making a healthy gut even more important if you suffer from anxiety or depression.
The research on how your gut microbiome impacts your mental health is enough for anyone to wonder – is my anxiety and depression caused by my gut microbiome?
Signs Your Gut Microbiome is Bringing You Down
When people struggle with anxiety and depression, it’s likely that they also have digestive symptoms. All too often, these cognitive and digestive symptoms are thought to be independent of one another, ignoring the important link between the gut and the brain.
Psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression:
Sense of doom
Finding comfort in food or drink
Physical symptoms of anxiety and depression:
Muscle aches and pains
Leaky gut syndrome
Serious gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome
Now that you understand the interconnectedness of your gut and brain – how can you improve the health of your gut microbiome to improve your overall wellbeing?
Your Gut Microbiome Can Be a Source of Happiness and Ease
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this revolutionary information is that the gut microbiome influences our brain at least as much as the brain influences the gut – if not more.
Your gut microbiome is as unique to you as your fingerprint, but your gut microbiome is dynamic and constantly changing. The trillions of microorganisms living in your gut include bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites, fungi, bacteriophages and more. We know it's important to boost beneficial microbes while decreasing the harmful ones, but how can you do that without knowing what’s going on in there?
Without fully understanding what's in your gut microbiome, making changes to your diet and life could end up being wasted energy. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Through RNA sequencing and revolutionary AI analysis, Viome is capable of seeing everything that's happening in your gut microbiome down to the strain level and what genes are being expressed (which is most important). Viome can even see what your microbes are producing – giving you insight into how they may be affecting you.
Your diet is the most powerful tool we have to affect change in the gut microbiome. When you sign up for Viome, you'll receive actionable recommendations so you can start seeing an improvement in your health fast. Personalized nutrition is the future of health and we are thrilled to start this journey with you – to your best self yet.