Depression & The Gut-Brain Connection

Dude’s Foods: Depression & The Gut-Brain Connection

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Dear dudes of Dude’s Foods, I need to level with you. I still struggle with depression. Although I have been recovered from bipolar depression for several years now thanks to nutrition therapy, I still have days where those old thoughts and habits creep up again. This past week I have put a lot of pressure on myself to write a memorable and informative blog post and that pressure has affected my mood. It’s time to take a step back and breathe. Now let’s explore how the gut-brain connection has a complex role in depression.

I’ll just tell you the “big answer” right off the bat – the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my years so far dealing with my own depression and using nutrition to address those symptoms is that there is no magic bullet. That’s the big answer, which admittedly is pretty anticlimactic.

Improving Mood with Nutrition

However, many people can make significant positive changes to their mood through nutrition and the benefits we reap are proportional to the effort we invest. I’ve learned that health can be rather fleeting and must be nurtured and maintained even after we reach a point of recovery.

With these more realistic expectations in mind, let’s explore next the role nutrition plays in depression. With my clients, I always start with gut health because significant research has indicated a strong connection between poor gut health and mental health issues like depression.

But even more important than that, an unhealthy gut’s ability to absorb nutrients from food and supplements is usually compromised. As a result, the best diet and supplements possible for a person won’t do him much good if his gut is not able to absorb necessary nutrients.

The 4 R’s for Gut Health

For these reasons and more, the depressed individual may likely benefit from a gut healing dietary protocol such as the “four Rs”:

  • Remove foods that are causing inflammation. The best place to start is with an elimination diet, a restricted diet that completely eliminates commonly reactive foods – usually dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, corn and egg. For some people, this step alone will help to improve and stabilize mood.  Some men may also experience relief from other seemingly unrelated symptoms such as skin problems, brain fog, bloating and headaches.
  • Replace nutrients necessary for digestion and stoke the digestive fire. Consider taking digestive enzymes before meals, as well as apple cider vinegar – drink 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of water about 15 minutes before meals. If you experience an unpleasant burning sensation, cut the amount of vinegar in half and then gradually increase. Important: if you are taking an antacid or proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to control heartburn, GERD or acid reflux, this step should only be attempted under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
  • Repair the damage to the intestines primarily by eating with awareness. Before each meal, slow down, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind. Avoid using your phone or watching TV when eating. Instead, focus on your food – its flavor, texture, color and aroma.  Eating while distracted impedes the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Also, eat more pho – the Vietnamese bone broth soup. One of the best gut-healing foods you can consume, bone broth contains glutamine and other nutrients that are very nourishing to the gut lining.
  • Reinoculate your intestines with healthy bacteria once you’ve given them a good place to call home. Try adding fermented foods to the diet such as raw sauerkraut, kim chi and plain yogurt, as well as beverages like kefir. You may also want to supplement with probiotic capsules from the refrigerated section of the health food store. Along with probiotics, make sure you’re eating plenty of fiber – most Americans don’t, and fiber provides “housing” for probiotic bacteria in the intestines. Most vegetables are high in fiber, as are beans, seeds and berries.

Reduce Stress for Better Digestion

Healing the gut is an important first step for many people on the road to recovery from depression and tackling this challenge ensures that your body is able to absorb the nutrients you give it through food and supplements. A primary challenge for many people in our hectic world is simply taking the time to relax and enjoy our food, which stresses the body and impacts mood. I can tell a difference with my stress level this week and I know I need to devote a little extra attention to taking care of myself.

What are your stressors? What prevents you from slowing down and enjoying your food? How can you make small changes to give yourself an extra 15 minutes to get away from your desk and focus on your meal? What would it be like to cook one more dinner at home next week? What could you do instead of watching TV during dinner one night the week after?  Big change happens in small increments.

Please keep in mind that the information in this blog is for educational purposes only. I am not a medical doctor and this information should not be considered medical advice.

Aaron Mello is a Master Nutrition Therapist and founder of MoodFood Clinic. He can be contacted at 720-683-8715 or aa***@mo************.com, or view his website at

NTI stands for better health through better nutrition.

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Image by geralt is free for use by Pixabay

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