We are all born with genes that predispose us to all kinds of things–in my case, most of the psychiatric illnesses listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition). And while we have some control over the way our genes express themselves or “turn on” – a new science called epigenetics—we are more or less stuck with our human genome. However, we are by no means permanently attached to a diagnosis of Major Depression Disorder (if that is what mom and dad kindly handed down).
Each of us also has a complex collection of bacteria living in our gut—our distinct microbiome—that also has genes. And THOSE genes we can maneuver in any way we want. In their book The Good Gut, scientists Justin and Erica Sonnenburg write:
Since there is much we can do to shape the environment within our gut, we have control over our microbiota and can compensate for the lack of control we have over our human genome. Our microbiome contains one hundred times more genes than our human genome, so in fact there is about 99 percent of associated genetic material that we have the potential to mold in ways that are beneficial to us.
If you doubt the connection between your mood and the critters in your gut, you must read Peter Andrey Smith’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine called “Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?” Not to ruin the suspense, but considering all the optimistic studies he includes, the answer is a resounding YES.
Of course, I’m sold on the research because, in the last 18 months, I have conducted my own gut experiment: eliminating sugar, gluten, dairy, and caffeine; drinking at least one kale smoothie a day; breaking up with my favorite pastime of swimming (chlorine kills good bacteria); taking probiotics and coconut oil; and working with a gastrointestinal doctor on reversing SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth) and treating inflammatory bowel disease. The result is that I haven’t had death thoughts in many months, and I’ve been able to wean off two of my psych meds. Since I have spent a considerable chunk of my free time reading up on gut health as of late, I thought I would summarize for you some ways you can cultivate good bacteria, which translates to a more stable, more resilient mood.
could you be more specific about what you eat…supplements…and any other support you do for your gut?
I eat a lot of vegetables, have stayed away from white rice, potatoes, white flour, anything starchy. Stayed away from processed food. I take a teaspoon of coconut oil twice a day, just heat it up in the microwave and swallow it. I eat a smoothie every morning with kale and pineapple. For supplements, I take a multivitamin, omega 3 fatty acids (OmegaBrite fish oil), a probiotic (Health Origins 30 Billion), vitamin d and vitamin b 12, and turmeric. The best things you can do is avoid processed food, eat as many greens as you can (eat a big salad for lunch), and watch your stress.
That was a really fascinating article. Thank you so much for writing. I’m sure it’s healing for you too but man is it nice to hear logical scientific discussions on what may be contributing factors of depression. I felt like you woke me up to the fact that I need to keep taking my probiotics ALL the time. Last year while I was brewing my own coconut kefir I had a very long stretch of happiness. I had little tiny bouts of depression around my period but nothing major. Then I started experiencing deep depressive episodes again (death thoughts – wishing for a terminal illness etc) and went over my supplements trying to figure out what I had changed. I think I totally overlooked the probiotics, thinking that was more for keeping my tummy from becoming painfully bloated but until now I hadnt fully realized that me missing most of my doses of coconut kefir ( I was taking a tablespoon or more with every meal) was possibly the real issue.
Thanks again for all your research and then turning around and spitting it out in an easy to read and understand form.
Thank you, Vena! I so appreciate your comment. Sounds like we are made the same! Bloating is what got me into this, and I still have that. But yes, the probiotics and the coconut oil I think are key. I take a tsp twice a day. Thanks very much for your interesting feedback!