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.