Poor digestion can cause depression

By Dr. Joe Alaimo, MA,DC

Question?
I went to see my natural medicine practitioner for depression and she wants to work on my digestive health. I don’t get the connection.

Answer:
Many people would be surprised to learn how greatly gut health affects brain health. A poor diet, inflamed gut, and intestinal permeability definitely can promote depression.

Depression a not-so-obvious symptom of poor digestion
Sometimes digestion issues are obvious; they cause gas, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain. Other times the main symptom is not so obvious—depression.

An unhealthy diet and compromised gut health can promote depression in several ways.

Poor nutrition
When one eats a junk food diet laden with processed foods, trans fats, sugars, and artificial chemicals, the brain suffers. The brain needs healthy fats, high-quality protein, abundant vitamins and minerals, and a diet low in starchy foods and sugars.

Gluten
Gluten is directly linked to depression in some. It causes gut inflammation, which can lead to inflammation in areas of the brain that regulate mood. Some people digest gluten into gluteomorphin, an opioid similar to heroin or morphine that can cause depression (not to mention constipation). Gluten can also cause autoimmune attacks in the brain with symptoms of depression. Dairy or other foods may also cause depression, depending on sensitivity.

Leaky gut
Leaky gut happens when the lining of the intestines becomes overly permeable. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, creating inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the brain may cause depression.

Inflammation in the gut also inhibits absorption of nutrients necessary for good brain function. An example is tryptophan, an amino acid found in proteins. The brain synthesizes tryptophan into serotonin, a “well-being and joy” brain chemical.

Always consider gut health
Depression is a complex, multi-faceted condition that can have its roots in various causes. However the role of diet and digestive health should always be included in a functional approach to depression.

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About Dr. Joseph Alaimo
Hi, I'm Dr. Joe Alaimo. I've been practicing in Wilmington, NC , since 1995. My primary practice focus is on chronic pain and metabolic conditions.

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