The Root Cause of Anxiety and Depression That Few Suspect

The Root Cause of Anxiety and Depression That Few Suspect




By Dr. Mercola

When you think about strategies to achieve optimal brain performance, you may think about doing crossword puzzles or learning a new language… adding more sleep or even eating more omega-3 fats may also come to mind.

Most people would not automatically think about their gut when they think about brain health… but this is actually a perfect place to look, one that may very well hold the secret to improving your mood, mental health and preventing other brain-related diseases, like Parkinson’s.

Does Your Gut Hold the Key to Better Brain Health?

You may not be aware that you actually have two nervous systems:

  • Central nervous system, composed of your brain and spinal cord
  • Enteric nervous system, which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract

Both are actually created out of the same type of tissue.

During fetal development, one part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system.

These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen.

It is now well established that the vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain. That’s right… while many think of their brain as the organ in charge, your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut.

To put this into more concrete terms, you’ve probably experienced the visceral sensation of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, or had an upset stomach when you were very angry or stressed. The flip side is also true, in that problems in your gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and autism.

For instance, in December 2011 the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility reported the novel finding that the probiotic (good bacteria) known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to help normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis.i

Reportedly, the bacteria’s effect on anxiety involves modulating the vagal pathways within your gut-brain connection:

“As B. longum decreases excitability of enteric neurons, it may signal to the central nervous system by activating vagal pathways at the level of the enteric nervous system.”

Separate research also found the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA [an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes] levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior.ii

When researchers severed the vagus nerve, GABA receptor levels and the animals’ behavior remained unchanged after treatment with L. rhamnosus, confirming that the vagus nerve is most likely the primary pathway of communication between the bacteria in your gut and your brain.

Interestingly, just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain! (Perhaps this is one reason whyantidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in your brain, are often ineffective in treating depression, whereas proper dietary changes often help.)

Abnormal Gut Flora Fosters Abnormal Brain Development

There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development—a condition Dr. Campbell-McBride calls Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS). GAPS is the result of poorly developed or imbalanced gut flora and may manifest as a conglomerate of symptoms that can fit the diagnosis of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities

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