Your Health Matters


California researcher says gut health is connected to mental health

Posted at 8:01 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 11:01:16-05

CALIFORNIA — As we head into the new year, many of us have resolutions surrounding our health. That could be mental or physical, but what if the two were connected? Well a California researcher says they are.

"Our research is mostly focused around trying to understand if we can change the bacteria that live in your intestine in a way that alleviates things like depression and anxiety," said University of California San Diego professor Jack Gilbert.

His team has spent about five years researching the human gut microbiome. They are analyzing its connection to our mental health.

“It’s an opportunity to address a major health concern in our nation and internationally in a way that’s more about rebalancing the natural ecology of your body, right, and using that as a way of treating this horrible disease," said Gilbert.

Gilbert said you have around 40 trillion bacterial cells inside your body. They produce the neurotransmitter GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric-acid. GABA affects your nervous system and sends signals to your brain, changing its chemistry. Gilbert’s research team found that people with major depressive disorder were missing a bacteria that creates GABA.
Now they’re using animal trials to see if that can be fixed.

“What was really exciting about that was we found that when we added this bacteria back into the guts of rats and mice, those rats and mice showed positive behavioral outcomes," said Gilbert.

The goal is to create a probiotic solution that puts the bacteria back in your body, treating depression.

“Having the opportunity to intervene on a medical level without chemical drugs would be fantastic," said Gilbert.

He said certain foods could be a key factor in this approach to mental health.

“if we can find out what kind of foods you should eat to feed these bacteria and make them produce more of these neurotransmitters, that could be huge, right?" said Gilbert. "Diets designed for individual people that will help them maintain the emotional and psychological stability they need to maintain a fruitful and productive life.”

The next step is to start human clinical trials with the FDA's approval. Gilbert said there isn’t one universal food that will treat depression for everyone, but while his team works on their probiotic solution, fiber and whole foods can help.

“I think that would be a phenomenally exciting outcome, treating anxiety and depression with diet," he said.

A natural treatment that could help people live whole and happy lives.