The presence of bacteria in our intestines which help in digestion has been well-known but now with a breakthrough in technology that helps detect these bacteria better, there is a new field of research emerging, one that seems to establish links between gut-health and mental health, suggesting that the benefits of eating nutritious food may not just be restricted to just physical health.
“What is emerging, however, is the growing link between gut health (measured by diversity of microbiome) and certain mental health conditions such as depression.
Head of the Nutraceutical Research stream at Deakin University’s Food & Mood Centre, Dr Wolf Marx, says that a growing library of evidence points to the “bacteria from our gut seeming to have anti-inflammatory properties that can influence our mood.”
“This is part of an interesting area that’s only emerged in the last five years, which is adding to our understanding of mental health as having an inflammatory component,” he says.
Simply put, gut bacteria flourish when we eat a large variety of nutritious foods – especially plant foods – and produce short chain fatty acids, some of which may suppress inflammation in the body, which is increasingly shown to exacerbate, or even give rise to, depressive symptoms.
“Studies show that people with severe depression actually have higher levels of inflammation than people without depression,” says Dr Marx. “This might also have an effect on our brain and mood.”
Dr Marx also pointed to an animal study which found that transferring gut microbiome from people with depression into mice results in mice displaying depressive behaviour, and said he is currently part of a trial looking at transferring healthy gut bacteria into people with clinical depression.
For Dynan, whose ’30 plants in 7 days’ program has been adopted by organisations including CBA, NAB and Telstra, it’s all about educating people to make better food choices. “We know that the more diverse our diet is, especially in terms of plants, the healthier our microbiome is and the healthier we are.”
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