The Gut-Brain Connection: How Gut Inflammation Worsens Depression and What you Should Eat to Avoid It by David Webster and Aubree Kozie

Trust your gut! Increasingly research finds out that a healthy gut has positive health repercussions throughout the body– including in the brain. 

Recently, empirical evidence finds that depression, a condition which affects more than 15 million adults every year, may not be as psychologically based as once thought. Depression much like other inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or autoimmune thyroid disease is a chronic condition that can have flare-ups or recurrences. Those who experience clinical depression exhibit biomarkers associated with inflammation, regardless of pre-existing inflammatory conditions. 

Evidence suggests increasingly that depression is not just a mood disorder but rather is linked to chronic inflammation, particularly in the gut. Bad bacteria in the gut known as gram negative bacteria cause the body to ramp up it’s immune response, heating up the body through the process of inflammation in an attempt to kill off harmful bacterias. 

Over time, chronic inflammation to address continual buildup of gram negative bacteria leads to wear on the gut and eventually results in leaky gut, a condition of increased permeability of the intestinal tissue. Leaky gut causes the small intestines tight junctions, which typically serve as a regulated gateway preventing harmful particles from entering the bloodstream, to loosen. This damage can be caused by inflammation from exposure to food allergens, sensitivities, chemicals, and toxins. 

When leaky gut occurs, this permeable condition of the intestines allows harmful bacteria to leak into the bloodstream and to circulate throughout the body. This causes other areas of the body to become inflamed resulting in autoimmune attacks, and even the development of new allergens and sensitivities. Inflammation then increases throughout the body to address the spread of gram negative bacteria and feeds back into the increasing loop of chronic inflammation, promoting depression. Ultimately, evidence increasingly suggests that depression is intricately related to inflammation and that gut health is a vital component of mental health. 

In order to promote gut health and ultimately mental health as well, one should avoid foods which are known to contribute to or exacerbate leaky gut and ultimately contribute to the inflammation-depression connection:

  • Gluten and grains
  • Soy and legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Trans fats and vegetable oils
  • Refined sugars
  • Processed foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

In addition, there are a number of foods which help to promote gut health and heal the intestinal wall which should be added to one’s diet to promote mental health as well:

  • Bone broth and the nutrients it contains (collagen, glycine, glutamine, glucosamine)
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Leafy greens
  • Antioxidant fruits like berries
  • Pastured proteins
  • Wild-caught seafood
  • Healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil
  • Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir)

Gut health and ultimately much of mental health can be managed through lifestyle techniques including diet. Research continues to reveal the intricate links between the wellness of the gut and the wellness of the mind. This indicates that one should be mindful of what’s good for both when we decide what fills our plates. 


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Hashmi, A. M., Butt, Z., & Umair, M. (2013). Is depression an inflammatory condition? A review of available evidence. J Pak Med Assoc, 63(7), 899-906.

Gárate, I., Garcia-Bueno, B., Madrigal, J. L., Caso, J. R., Alou, L., Gomez-Lus, M. L., Micó, J. A., & Leza, J. C. (2013). Stress-induced neuroinflammation: role of the Toll-like receptor-4 pathway. Biological psychiatry, 73(1), 32–43.

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Gelenberg, A. J. (2010). The prevalence and impact of depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 71(3), e06.

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