How Dysbiosis Affects Mood and Mental Health: Insights

Heather Campbell
 min read

Let’s discuss how dysbiosis affects mood and mental health. Dysbiosis, in this context, means an imbalance of your gut flora.

How Dysbiosis Affects Mood And Mental Health InsightsDid you know that our intestines are colonized by more than 1,000 different bacterial species?

Ideally, these all live in symbiosis (a cooperative relationship) with our bodies. When that’s not the case (dysbiosis), it can influence our state of health and different diseases.

How dysbiosis affects mood and mental health: Introduction

All these micro-organisms located in our intestine constitute what is called the “intestinal microbiota.” It is mainly composed of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and non-pathogenic fungi. It is also commonly called the “intestinal flora.”

The microbiota is considered a real organ of our body because it performs essential functions for proper functioning.

It is essential to know that the set of genes of these bacteria, called the “microbiome,” is also closely interconnected with the human genome and can interact with it.

This article will uncover the links between our gut microbiota and mood. Indeed, it seems that these two are very strongly linked…

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiota is vital

The intestinal microbiota plays an essential role in the two-way communication between the intestine and the brain. It is called the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

The intestinal microbiota is also known to significantly influence the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems.

Therefore, if this mechanism is thrown off balance, it can result in various affections, which can be more or less severe.

For example, studies have shown that a change in the intestinal microbiota can contribute to developing depression and mood disorders.

Indeed, some research suggests a correlation between gut bacteria and our behavior. Moreover, the microbiota would directly affect the development and proper functioning of the brain in mammals.

Hence, we can say that our health, behavior, and mood depend not only on what we do and how we live but also on what we put in our intestines.

Many factors can alter the balance of intestinal bacteria, but one of the main ones is what we ingest:

  • Food and all its nutrients
  • As well as all other substances that are introduced into our gut, accidentally or deliberately.

Contaminants and food additives can negatively affect our mood and the development of depressive disorders by disrupting our gut microbiota.

Factors that can modify the composition and diversity of the intestinal microbiota

Many factors can alter the diversity and composition of the gut microbiota.

Some of them may be personal, such as:

  • genetics,
  • age,
  • way of life, and
  • hygiene.

Other factors may come from the environment, such as:

  • stress,
  • food,
  • environmental exposure, and
  • medications the person might be taking.

The effects of these factors may be temporary or long-lasting, harmful or harmless.

However, these factors often add up and interact with each other.

However, our microbiota is not just at the mercy of any external factor. Luckily, the intestine is a great defensive weapon for our body that is remarkably resilient.

This organ can adapt until it reaches a critical point where the balance is upset. Too many alterations in the microbiota then result in dysbiosis or an imbalance of the gut flora.

Dysbiosis and the disorders it can cause

Studies have shown that dysbiosis is associated with various disorders. For example, dysbiosis:

  • exposes us to a greater susceptibility to infections;
  • may promote allergies, behavioral disorders, and neurological diseases;
  • may also contribute to the onset of metabolic syndrome through: hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Dysbiosis and depression

Dysbiosis can lead to the development of depression and anxiety.

In fact, a reduction in the variety and richness of intestinal bacteria increases the probability of developing depressive disorders.

What is depression?

First, some stats about depression:

  • It is a disease affecting more than 345 million people worldwide;
  • Depression dramatically impacts public health, the economy, and the quality of life of those who suffer from it and those around them;
  • It is considered one of the diseases with the highest mortality rate;
  • Approximately 20% of the population experiences a depressive episode at some point in their lives.
  • Among people with depression, about 25% do not respond to the antidepressants currently on the market.

Good to know: Antidepressants are designed to increase the levels of monoaminergic neurotransmitters in the body (such as serotonin and dopamine). These medications can cause side effects, and not everyone tolerates them adequately.

You should also know that depression is not just a brain disorder but the result of the interaction of many factors.

Indeed, the effect of various environmental and lifestyle factors is indisputable, not to mention the chance of inheriting it (between 35% and 45%).

The link between dysbiosis and depressive disorders

Our modern lifestyle provides a basis for altering the gut microbiota, leading to neuroinflammation and depression.

Indeed, research has shown that diet is closely linked to the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Therefore, intestinal bacteria are essential in this process.

It would seem that a diet composed of certain elements could reduce the risk of developing anxiety and depression. In fact, one should consume anti-inflammatory foods as well as foods consisting of:

  • beneficial phytochemicals,
  • omega 3,
  • vitamins, and
  • minerals.

Ingestion of these foods would directly affect the brain and positively impact the intestinal microbiota.

On the other hand, a diet with an inflammatory effect is likely to cause dysbiosis:

  • causing a modification of the permeability of the intestinal barrier and the occurrence of inflammation
  • this, in turn, increases the risk of developing depression.

Good to know: Anxiety and depression can also affect our food choices. Indeed, have you ever succumbed to the desire for chocolate in a moment of particular psychological stress?

There is a hypothesis that states that it is precisely the disturbance of the intestinal microbiota that is the leading cause of depressive disorders.

One of the effects of dysbiosis is inflammation and increased intestinal barrier permeability.

This phenomenon will allow the entry into the circulation of many toxins capable of generating low-grade systemic inflammation and, consequently, neuroinflammation and depression.

Other observations have been conducted and have shown that antidepressant drugs induce changes in the intestinal microbiota.

For example, certain antibiotics (including fluoroquinolones) alter the intestinal flora and are associated with the development of anxiety and depression.

Furthermore, in depressed individuals, the abundance and diversity of gut microbes appears much lower than in “healthy” individuals.

Indeed, people with anxiety and depressive disorders show:

  • a decrease in bacteria producing short-chain fatty acids (with anxiolytic and antidepressant effects), and
  • an increase in pro-inflammatory bacteria.

Some research has also shown that anxiety behaviors can be reduced by restoring the gut microbiota, including ingesting bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

As such, these probiotic bacteria can be used effectively in patients suffering from mood disorders.

Some tips to defend our good mood

Following a correct diet is essential to maintain our intestinal microbiota in good health and guarantee our physical and psychological well-being.

Studies have shown that processed foods are more likely to contain additives and contaminants. Therefore, the first tip would be to consume fresh, minimally processed products and, when possible, to eat raw foods.

Some products imported from developing countries may contain substances that are now banned because they are considered hazardous. Therefore, the second tip would be to always check the origin of the food we buy.

Another point to emphasize is to pay close attention to nutrition during pregnancy and infancy. Indeed, many studies suggest that the gut microbiota significantly influences the development of the human brain.

Furthermore, a state of dysbiosis (imbalance in the gut flora) during development predisposes one to chronic diseases in adulthood that affect the gut and brain function.

Good to know: Processed foods for children are often the richest in additives, such as emulsifiers, colorants, and thickeners. Therefore, we must check the nutrients before giving them to our little ones.

Other research has also shown that animal products are more susceptible to contamination than plant products.

Therefore, it is wise to limit the consumption of foods of animal origin and to increase the consumption of plant-based foods to preserve our psychophysical well-being.

Good to know: Fish and seafood are the most commonly contaminated foods. Therefore, it is doubtful that the benefits of consuming fish outweigh the associated risks.

As for vegetables, it is strongly recommended to choose local and seasonal products and to prefer those from organic farming.

However, it is virtually impossible to completely avoid exposure to food contaminants.

Therefore, another tip is to consume plant products rich in phytochemicals. These are excellent for fighting against harmful chemicals that damage our microbiota.

For example: consume nettles, artichokes, and brassicas (such as broccoli and cabbage) to purify your body.

Another tip: if needed, use plant supplements containing antioxidant and purifying elements to help the body eliminate harmful substances. For example, use seaweed, a natural ally of our well-being.

And finally, the use of certain probiotics to restore mood has recently been very encouraging. Some researchers have even called them “psychobiotics” because of the improvement they have produced in brain function and overall body health.

Indeed, studies have found that Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus helveticus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum have anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) and antidepressant effects. Beware, probiotics also have specific side effects.

Dysbiosis can also be caused by contaminants and food additives

In our modern lifestyle, inevitably, what we eat and drink contains intentionally added chemicals or even contaminant residues of agricultural chemicals.

Many contaminants and food additives can disrupt our intestinal microbiota and impact our mood.

Several studies have shown that many foreign substances that contaminate food can alter intestinal microbiota balance and cause dysbiosis.

Although the gut and the bacteria that inhabit it are the first barriers capable of defending us from the pollutants we eat, they are also the first to come into contact with these substances and to be damaged by them.

Research has shown that altering the microbiota can have grave health consequences on the gastrointestinal tract and the entire human body.

Dysbiosis caused by food additives and contaminants is accompanied by increased intestinal permeability. As a result, toxins and pro-inflammatory substances enter the circulation.

These will cause low-grade intestinal and systemic inflammation, altered production of many peptides, increased pro-inflammatory bacterial species, and decreased short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria.

Furthermore, these mechanisms will, in turn, alter gut-brain communication and the level of monoaminergic neurotransmitters in the body. These are chemicals involved in many of our body’s essential functions that regulate mood and anxiety levels.

How dysbiosis affects mood and mental health: Conclusion

Dysbiosis can promote the development of mood and behavioral disorders (such as depression and anxiety) and, therefore, significantly worsen the quality of our lives.

Studies have shown that, in depressed patients, there is a reduction in the abundance and diversity of gut bacteria.

We now know that the intestinal microbiota plays a fundamental role in the communication between the intestine and the brain and vice versa. Therefore, an imbalance in our microbiota can impact our psychological well-being.

Hence, it is essential to take care of your intestinal microbiota by adopting a natural diet and a healthy lifestyle. For that, we try to consume local, organic products (preferably vegetables) and avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Some studies have also shown that food additives found in certain foods can alter our microbiota and, consequently, our moods.

A healthy gut microbiota will ensure that your body is in great shape and at a lower risk of depressive and anxiety disorders.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More