Monday, May 11, 2020 by Arsenio Toledo
Patients with depression often experience gastrointestinal distress, a group of digestive disorders marked by lingering symptoms, such as constipation, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping. According to a study published in the journal Gastroenterology, the two disorders are connected by a common cause: low levels of serotonin, also known the “happy chemical.”
Using mice carrying a mutation linked to severe depression, researchers from different American universities showed that low levels of serotonin in the gut can cause constipation. This mirrors the consequence of having low serotonin levels in the brain, which is known to cause depression.
The researchers also found that low levels of serotonin in the gut reduce the number of gut neurons. In the mice they studied, this led to a deterioration of the gut lining and slowed movement of gut contents through the digestive tract.
On the other hand, the researchers reported that a simple treatment like 5-HTP supplementation, which can increase serotonin levels in both the brain and the gut, can alleviate depression and gastrointestinal distress simultaneously.
About one-third of people suffering from depression are also dealing with chronic constipation or some other form of gastrointestinal distress. According to reports, these digestive concerns significantly lower their quality of life. Severe constipation, which can cause serious pain, leads to 2.5 million physician visits and 100,000 hospitalizations every year.
The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to emotions, such as sadness, anger, happiness and anxiety. All of these different feelings can trigger reactions in the gut. This, according to researchers, can explain why people often feel nauseous in certain situations and why they sometimes feel “butterflies” in their stomach during very happy moments.
People with gastrointestinal distress caused by stress, depression or other psychological factors may even feel pain more acutely than other people. This is because their brains become more responsive to pain signals released by their distressed guts. Stress can also amplify the severity of pain. (Related: Why do we crave junk food so much? We explain the gut-brain connection and how you can train yourself to want healthier food.)
Based on this study, it’s clear that keeping your gut healthy is important for maintaining good mental health. To improve your gut health and keep anxiety, depression and other mental disorders at bay, here are seven things that you can do: (h/t to Healthline.com)
Learn more about your brain-gut connection at MindBodyScience.news.