In recent years, the study of causes and treatments of depression has uncovered a link to the health of the microbiome within the body’s digestive system. The hypothesis is that the presence or absence of healthy digestive bacteria affects the way the brain functions, and new research by a Florida State University neuroscientist sheds more insight into this.
The findings by research and psychology professor Linda Rinaman point to a very important connection between the gut and the brain, identifying pathways that help to understand why so-called ‘gut feelings’ have a powerful influence on emotions, mood and decision-making.
“We expect these lines of research will help us better understand how gastrointestinal functions contribute to both normal and disordered mental function.” ~Linda Rinaman
Her research looked at pathways between the gut and the brain in mammals, noting how feelings generated within the gut move into the brain, indicating that some ‘gut-feelings’ are a red flag and thereby may be a fair indicator of healthy mood and mental states.
In the human body, the vagus nerve acts as the pathway between the brain and gut. The nerve is the body’s largest and most extensive nerve, translating and carrying messages between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. If the gut is operating optimally, the brain is cued to respond more positively. Food and proper supplementation are important factors.
“Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests a poor diet can cause those protective, cautionary signals to get out of whack, leading to altered mood and behavior. For example, Rinaman said, a high-fat diet can promote a low-grade inflammatory response in the GI tract, changing vagal signals and possibly exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression or other disturbed mental states.
Rinaman said the types of bacteria within your gut are shaped by your diet, and those bacteria can affect your emotional and cognitive state.” [Source]
The emotional significance of the vagus nerve is discussed further:
“Research indicates that a healthy vagus nerve is vital in experiencing empathy and fostering social bonding, and it is crucial to our ability to observe, perceive, and make complex decisions. Tests have revealed that people with impaired vagal activity have also been diagnosed with depression, panic disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, panic disorders, violent mood swings, fibromyalgia, early Alzheimer’s and obesity. Given the state of society today and the vast array of dis-eases associated with unhealthy Vagus Nerves, it doesn’t take a medical doctor to conclude that by healing our collective Vagus Nerves, we can heal a lot of societies woes.
Scientists have discovered that artificial Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), through electrical impulses via a surgically implanted pacemaker like device, shows promising results in reducing depression, anxieties and even conditions such as epilepsy and obesity. VNS has also shown positive effects in promoting weight-loss as the signals to the brain of ‘fullness’ are more easily transmitted. But what if there were a less intrusive and more natural way to stimulate and heal the Vagus Nerve?” ~Frank Huguenard
The important takeaway here is that supporting healthy gut function along with healthy function of the vagus nerve is being demonstrated to be a potentially very potent way of holistically approaching treatment of depression and anxiety.
“Evidence shows that modifying the diet, perhaps by consuming probiotics, can impact your mood and behavioral state. That’s very clear in animal and human studies.” ~Linda Rinaman