Gut Health: The Link to Serious Disorders
Depression is currently cited as the number one cause of disability worldwide, and rates are skyrocketing higher than ever. It’s no surprise, then, that the U.S. spent over $12 billion on antidepressants in the most recent year alone. The problem is that there’s no single drug that can specifically treat the actual disease - all medications can do is treat the symptoms of depression, and even then, they’re oftentimes only minimally effective.
The same, unfortunately, goes for disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The emphasis has been to get people to take the proper drugs that work best for them, but rarely is there ever any focus on getting people off medications - or curing the root cause of the illness itself. This speaks volumes to the nature of American consumerism; failure to identify the factors that make these disorders and diseases appear in the first place is a guaranteed way to keep demand for prescription meds high.
Of course, taking any form of prescription medication comes with its risks. Serious side effects sometimes make drugs seem scarier than the disease or disorder they’re used to treat! So, while we may not have the power within our own hands to stop the cycle of prescription medications, what we can do is delve further into the main root cause for serious disorders: inflammation.
Throughout the 20th century, researchers adopted the notion that what happened within the gastrointestinal tract was exclusive to that area; they didn’t believe that the contents of the gut could directly impact any other part of the body in any measureable way. Yet, today’s research shows that the higher a person’s levels of inflammation are, the greater his or her risks for depression will be. Moreover, someone who has very high levels of inflammation is more likely to experience severe depression than a person with moderately high inflammatory markers. Thus, depression can no longer be viewed as a disorder that’s rooted in the brain alone.
New research has shown that some antidepressant medications are working for certain individuals simply due to their ability to suppress inflammation. In other words, the efficacy of an antidepressant may have little to do with its ability to alter serotonin, and everything to do with combating inflammation. That’s certainly a compelling argument for looking further into the impact of inflammation on the body. We must remember, too, that even if antidepressants have the ability to regulate inflammatory chemicals, it’s important to assess the cause for which the chemicals are acting up in the first place; otherwise, we’re relying on a temporary fix instead of a long-term solution.
Again, inflammation and high blood sugar levels are directly related. Thus, it makes sense that high blood sugar is one of the highest risk factors for depression - as well as Alzheimer’s. As we see rates for these disorders continuing to climb, we must assess our behaviors that have shaped our lives within recent decades, too. Technology has allowed us to become more sedentary than ever, and so it goes without saying that levels of physical activity have dwindled drastically.
In terms of food, the typical Western diet is high in processed fats and refined carbs.
These factors lead to higher levels of C-reactive proteins, which are typically associated with high inflammation levels. Glucose also plays a role here; it leads to drastic spikes in blood sugar levels, altering the production of inflammation in a negative way.
All of this points to the fact that gut health is crucial for keeping depression at bay. Now, researchers have found statistics to be so compelling that they’ve actually encouraged patients suffering from depression to get checked for leaky gut (again, a weakened intestinal lining) by screening the blood to measure presence of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) antibodies. The best ways to prevent depression, Alzheimer’s, and other disorders, then, is to build up our intestinal walls and conform to a diet plan that fosters a diverse array of good bacteria in the gut.
Researchers have found that specifically, a Mediterranean-style diet is perhaps the greatest approach that we can use to balance healthy eating habits. These diets are typically high in healthy, anti-inflammatory proteins and fats, and lower in carbohydrates and sugars. Because a diet high in sugar and refined carbs leads to an inflammatory microbiome, these foods should be avoided, or at the very least, eaten in moderation. Caloric sweeteners are a serious offender, and could even be linked directly to depression and dementia; it’s best, then, to stay away from them altogether.
There are a few ingredients, however, that have a favorable impact on the microbiome, and thus, can potentially lower the risk of depression. Namely, cocoa, turmeric, and coffee are said to combat the risks of depression. We’ll discuss these in greater detail in upcoming chapters, when we focus on the ideal Brain Maker diet plan.
A common sidekick accompanying depression is anxiety. Many patients diagnosed with depression are also sufferers of chronic anxiety, and vice versa. Thus, patients often find themselves taking two prescriptions - both anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants. Although anxiety and depression are quite different in terms of the psychological effects that they have on their sufferers, one thing that they do have in common is the fact that they both relate back to the state of gut bacteria.
Like depression sufferers, many individuals with anxiety disorder have increased levels of inflammation in the gut. Their microbiota has been disrupted in a negative way, which ultimately leads to higher levels of systemic inflammation and decreased levels of the BDNF. Thus, the body experiences an over-reactive stress response, leaving sufferers to feel a sense of anxiousness that interferes with their quality of life.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, diseases, and disorders may be due to misfires in parts of the brain; there’s much more research to be done in order to prove or disprove this theory. Yet, what research has proved thus far - and what we must take notice of and act upon - is the fact that neural transmissions depend, in part, on the health of the microbiome. That’s why it’s so important to keep your body’s intestinal tracts healthy and stable, and maintain a diverse array of gut bacteria. First, you must understand the roles that gluten and fructose play within the gut, which we’ll cover in the next chapter.