Beat depression with your second brain

You know how much I love probiotics. They’ve been a favorite topic of mine for years — and I was writing about them way before I wrote my book Boost Your Health with Bacteria, which was published nearly a decade ago (where has the time gone?).

Back then, it might have seemed to some like an unusual preoccupation to have. But as with so many of my favorite subjects, vindication has been ample over the last several years.

With the advent of the Human Microbiome Project, researchers are uncovering all sorts of things about the critical role these trillions of organisms play in our health — more than anyone likely ever could’ve imagined.

So if it seems like I’m always sharing breakthroughs on probiotics, that’s because there are new developments made nearly every day. And as you may have guessed by now, today is going to be one of those days.

The latest discovery: A recent study found that probiotics may significantly reduce symptoms in patients with untreated mild to moderate depression — and within just four weeks of supplementation.

Of course, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised — anyone who knows anything about the gut-brain connection could have called this outcome from a mile away.

After all, the gut is responsible for generating the majority of your body’s serotonin supply — the exact neurotransmitter popular antidepressants aim to increase. Which means more of the happy chemicals we associate with good moods are produced in the lining of the GI tract than anywhere else.

In other words, your gut truly is your “second brain.” (Though researchers also believe that probiotics’ anti-inflammatory benefits may play a role, too.)

Results showed that probiotics improved both mood and anhedonia (the fancy term for the inability to find enjoyment anymore). Predictably, sleep quality also improved.

Altogether, this would be more than enough to convince my chronically sleep-deprived and particularly high-strung patients to make sure they’re taking a good probiotic. But there are still critics who content that, since this wasn’t a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, we should take the results with a grain of salt.

And I’ll be the first to admit that that’s a fair objection. But with results this promising, I don’t imagine such a study is far off. And in the meantime, depression sufferers have absolutely nothing to lose by fortifying their microbiome.

In fact, they have quite a bit to gain, when you consider the side effect profile of popular depression drugs. Many patients take them because they need them. But the well-known drawbacks of antidepressant treatment are pretty universally detested.

And as many as 60 percent of patients kick these drugs to the curb with the first three months. Often because the side effects — nausea, vomiting, headaches, suicidal ideation, and sexual dysfunction, to name a few — just aren’t worth it.

Probiotics don’t require any of these compromises — in the short or long term. Some people might experience a bit of an upset stomach at first. But this subsides as your body adjusts to the supplement.

I’m always telling my patients prescription antidepressants should be a last resort. But some doctors like to dole them out like they’re candy. Instead, you can rest easy knowing a quality, natural probiotic can do the job without the dangerous side effects. I always recommend Dr. Ohirra’s Probiotics, with 12 synergistic strains and backed by 25 years of university-based research.

So if you or someone is suffering from depression, try nourishing your second brain first.

And as always, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor, a loved one, trusted friend, or one of the following hotlines to help you find the proper treatment:
• The United Way Helpline can aid you in locating a therapist, healthcare, or basic necessities: Simply call 2-1-1.
• The Kristin Brooks Hope Center Hopeline can help you cope with a range of depressive feelings: 1-800-784-2433.
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available if you are having suicidal thoughts. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately.