If you’ve seen a health professional (or professionals) for depression and no one has asked you the question: “Are you regular?”, you need to understand how having a healthy bowel is related to your mood. (Aside from the fact that having irregular bowel movements is uncomfortable).
I learned about the connection in 2008. I was taking a low dose of an antidepressant (prescribed to me during my teen years) that I was trying to wean off of, and went to see a naturopathic doctor.
He asked me how often I passed a bowel movement. I explained I was constantly irregular: “Sometimes I only go once a week!” I told him. He explained that the situation was problematic and was likely causing my depressed mood. He prescribed me a combination of healthy bowel supplements, which I took by mouth. I started having daily bowel movements. My mood improved and I was able to discontinue my antidepressants. At the time, I never felt happier.
Your digestive system impacts your mood
Did you know, your body has two brains?
Your gut is the component of your digestive track that allows your body to digest food and process it into waste and eliminate it, by sending it out your anus.
What most people don’t know about the gut is that it works independently. It’s the only organ that works without being controlled by your cranial brain (the one inside your skull). That means, it’s also wired with a network of neurons (brain cells). There are approximately 400 to 600 million neurons in your gut.
For this reason, the gut is commonly called the “second brain” or “gut brain”. And it’s pre-empted a new school of research called neurogastroenterology.
How the cranial brain and gut brain interact
Your gut brain manufactures approximately 30 neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). It talks to the brain in your head, your cranial brain, by sending messages through a region at the based of your brain that extends to abdomen, called the vagus nerve.
Your gut brain sends signals to your cranial brain that affect feelings of sadness, stress and that influence your thinking processes. Both brains produce the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) serotonin. And get this: Your gut produces 95 percent of all the serotonin in your body. Your guts also makes 50% of the dopamine (another feel good brain chemical) in your body.
So, are you regular?
Frequency: Are you passing a bowel anywhere from 1-3 times a day. These averages suggest a normal range, though some individuals go slightly less (3-5 times per week) and some go more (up to 4 times per day). As you long as you are going at least every other day and you feel comfortable (you’re not dealing with stomach pain or discomfort) it’s likely not affecting your mood.
Appearance: Your bowel movements should be a shade of brown. They are brown because your liver produces a substance called bile, which helps your body break down and eliminate food. If your stool (your poop) is black or has red in it, you may have blood in your stool. This may suggest other serious illnesses.
Ways to improve your bowel health
If you are irregular, you’ll want to tell your doctor. You’ll be able to learn ways to get your bowels back in working order.
You may also want to consider speaking to a naturopathic doctor. They may be more familiar with your the gut brain and cranial brain connection and will be able to suggest supplements to improve the function of your digestive system.
Supplements they may recommend are:
PREBIOTICS AND PROBIOTICS
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers found in various foods that are used by the gut in the growth of bio cultures. They are food for an essential good bacteria your digestive system requires to function optimally, called probiotics. When prebiotics are present in the gut they induce metabolic activity, driving the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestine. They are found in foods which contain a source of dietary fiber called inulin.
Are dietary fibers that you don’t digest but that the gut uses to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. They are food for probiotics, which are good bacteria located in your gut.
Recent studies have also shown prebiotics and good bacterial gut balance play a direct role in mental health. Individuals who consume prebiotics on a daily basis have fewer issues with anxiety, depression and stress. In fact, when their saliva was tested, it contained lower levels of cortisol. High levels of this hormone have been linked directly to mental health disorders.