In 2017, approximately 17.3 million Americans 18 or older suffered at least one major depressive episode within the prior 12 months. To put this in perspective, 17.3 million people is almost the equivalent of the New York State population (19.45 million people).
The standard medical solution to “treat” depression is through medication, and specifically, prescribing SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Paxil.
These drugs are designed to poison your nerve cells to limit the reabsorption of serotonin into your bloodstream, which allegedly increase the quantity of serotonin available to your brain. This will supposedly enhance your mood and alleviate the symptoms of depression.
While SSRIs may or may not effectively accomplish this function, modern psychiatric and medical researchers have also discovered a direct link between digestive health, gut microbiome, and depression. This connection opens the door to a wide range of nutrition-based remedies for depression, reducing (or eliminating) the possible need for medication. And, astonishingly, this same line of research also found that SSRIs alter your gut microbiome and reduce your body’s natural production of serotonin!
At BodyHealth, we focus on a holistic, health-oriented approach to alleviating the symptoms of depression and restoring emotional balance through nutrition. Our research and experience, which is corroborated by top research by some of the world’s top medical facilities and scientists, has indicated that not only are these drugs ineffective at treating the real problem, but that they actually push your system further out of balance.
Today we’re going to discuss how and why, and what solutions are out there to restore your gut and microbiome, and how strengthening your gut-brain axis can help you lead a happier, healthier life!
To understand what serotonin is and how it affects your mental state, we first need to take a step back and discuss the function of your nervous system.
The human nervous system
Your nervous system is made up of millions of specialized cells, called neurons, which comprise your body’s internal communication and control system. Most of the neurons in your body reside in your brain and spinal cord, with branches that spread throughout your body to receive sensory information and control bodily functions.
The key functions of the human nervous system include:
- Controlling your body’s organs and internal environment to maintain homeostasis (stable internal body system balance)
- Managing all involuntary movements and bodily functions, such as heartbeat and breathing
- Receiving and processing sensory input
- Memory, learning, and voluntary bodily functions
The communication pathway between individual neurons is a process called neurotransmission, and it occurs through the emission and reception of specialized chemicals called neurotransmitters. Each unique neurotransmitter is responsible for a wide range of functions. These various types of neurotransmitters include:
Serotonin – the “feel-good chemical”
Serotonin is one of the primary neurotransmitters, and it affects virtually every function of the human body, and most notably, your emotions, sleep, and motor skills. It is synthesized in both your brain and your gut, with over 90% of your body’s serotonin residing in your digestive system. Healthy levels of serotonin are associated with:
- A healthy and stable mental state
- Normalized anxiety levels
- Rapid wound healing
- Healthy bone density
The Function of SSRI Antidepressants
When your brain and body are functioning well, serotonin flows throughout your brain cells and is eventually shed through absorption into the bloodstream. Because depression is associated with clinically low serotonin levels, SSRI medications claim to alter your neurons to use serotonin more effectively and keep it flowing, rather than disposing of it in the bloodstream.
While this sounds like a slightly workable band-aid treatment at first glance, there are several factors that must be considered:
- According to numerous studies on the efficacy of SSRIs in treating depression, 82% of the positive response to SSRIs was also experienced by subjects who were given a placebo.
- The list of SSRI side effects is extensive and includes insomnia, anxiety, indigestion, diarrhea, headaches, low sex drive, and erectile dysfunction.
- Serotonin is not the only biological marker associated with depression, and SSRIs have been unequivocally demonstrated to alter the gut biome and disrupt the brain-gut axis – one of the most important underlying physiological pathways that promote stable mental health.
How SSRIs Affect the Brain-Gut Axis
The brain-gut axis is the term used to describe the bi-directional pathways between your digestive system and related microbiota (gut) and your brain. Modern scientific research has demonstrated tight links between a healthy digestive system and your mental health, and that clinical depression is very often associated with a dysfunctional gut.
Of course, environmental stressors can cause even the healthiest person to feel depressed for a short while – but we are strictly speaking about chronic depression that exhibits as extreme or without rational cause.
Psychiatrists, along with many holistic medical professionals, are increasingly turning to nutritional psychiatry as an effective treatment for mental illness due to this clear link and evidence that restoring the gut biome can help eradicate or reduce many of the symptoms associated with mental illnesses.
On the other hand, SSRIs do the opposite: They disrupt the gut biome and create an environment toxic to two of the key gut bacteria responsible for producing and regulating serotonin in your gut. Researchers from UCLA discovered some shocking results with SSRIs in clinical trials with mice – the pro-serotonin gut bacteria were reduced to exceptionally low levels after being exposed to SSRIs.
What does this tell us? It tells us that not only do SSRIs provide limited (if any) benefit to treating depression, but they also destabilize the body’s natural serotonin production system and disrupt the gut biome, which is known to result in further depression and mental illness.
Sounds absurd, right? Well, these facts match what we see in our clinic: Patients on SSRIs continue to show extremely low serotonin levels, with no recognizable improvement from these medications.
Healthy Solutions to Improve Depression
If you or a loved one suffer from depression, we strongly recommend discovering any underlying physical conditions that may be a cause before you resort to medication.
The gut is often the primary culprit, but balance and health can be restored to the gut microbiome.
At BodyHealth, we have developed products specifically designed to restore digestive health and promote healthy organ function and improved systemic health, including:
- Glandular Organ Complex: Our unique formulation of six of nature’s top grass-fed beef organs in an easy-to-take capsule provides a supercharged boost of nutrition to your brain, digestive system, pancreas, liver, and virtually all other supporting facets of your digestive system.
- Perfect Immune Defense Probiotic: This scientifically formulated advanced probiotic supplement provides your gut biome with a boost of healthy bacteria to help restore balance and get your gut health back on track.
For those who are currently on an SSRI, giving your body the nutrition it needs to restore proper digestive health is critical – but you should always speak to your physician before making any changes to your medication regimen.
A healthy gut can make a dramatic difference in your emotional stability, happiness, and overall quality of life – naturally.