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The Important Role Gut Health Plays in Mental Health

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Managing a person’s mental health may start in the gut. 

While treating depression often involves therapy and/or pharmaceutical drugs, there may be another approach to managing the condition. Medical professionals, including psychologists, say a patient’s microbiome “gut” health plays an important role in a patient’s mental and physical health.

That gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes living in the walls of a person’s intestinal tract. Changing that bacteria may help treat conditions like depression.

“Chronic stressors can result in ‘leaky gut’ where unwanted microbes enter the gut outnumbering friendly microbes,” says Dr. Gerda Edwards, Ph.D., DNM, FDN, who’s board-certified in integrative health by the American Association of Integrative Medicine. “The assault of bad microbes changes the landscape of the microbiome, where two of the most common microbe species, lactobacillus, and bifidobacteria, are overrun.”

Gut-brain axis

The vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the stomach, may hold the key. Doctors call this the gut-brain axis, with 500 million neurons in the gut connected to the brain.  

“The microbiota involved in the gut-brain axis are now known to be critical in psychiatric and neurological diseases, and communicate with each other through a variety of pathways that connect the two organ systems, such as through the immune or nervous systems,” says Deanna L. Kelly, PharmD., BCPP, professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

She says that the gut-brain axis is stimulated by biproducts and metabolites of microbes such as short-chain fatty acids or branched chain amino acids. 

“The microbiome composition could contribute significantly to cognitive function, and changes in these microbiota could contribute to significant improvements in cognition in many disease states,” she says, noting her group is studying the impact of microbiome metabolites and byproducts on the role of cognitive function.     


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 264 million people worldwide have depression. The condition is one of the leading causes of disability globally. In the United Sates, 17.3 million adults ­— over 7 percent of all U.S. adults — have had at least one major depressive episode. 

People with depression can experience cognitive impairment including problems with memory, decision-making, and attention. 


Studies also show a link between depression and dementia. According to a six-year study of over 2.4 million people in Denmark, documented in “JAMA Psychiatry,” people with depression had an 83 percent increased risk of developing dementia compared to people without depression. The research also showed people with both depression and type 2 diabetes had a 117 percent increased risk of developing dementia.

Researchers in Japan found people with dementia have different gut microbiota compared to people without dementia. Worldwide, 50 million people have dementia and nearly 10 million new cases are diagnosed yearly.


“The published literature is exploding with data on microbiotic changes and dementia,” says Dr. Kelly, who calls these findings exciting since they can help doctors and researchers better understand Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

She says, “It’s possible that microbiota metabolites could trigger central nervous system inflammation and degeneration, decreasing protein clearance or play a role in neurotransmitter function through vagus nerve conductance.”

Dietary interventions

A recent study of over 45,000 people, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, found dietary interventions “significantly reduced depressive symptoms,” especially in women. Researchers concluded that dietary interventions are a promising and novel intervention for reducing symptoms of depression.

“Prebiotics are a way to enliven the intestinal contents to better align with intestinal function,” says gastroenterologist Dr. F. Wilson Jackson, medical director for Prebiotin, maker of all-natural, plant-based, full-spectrum prebiotic fiber supplements.

It may help the microbiome and gut-brain axis, too.

“Prebiotin is an oligofructose-enriched inulin which provides nourishment as a non-digestible fiber to the bacteria of the colon,” says Dr. Kelly, noting the gut’s short chain fatty acids use the prebiotic for higher production of these anti-inflammatory metabolites.

“The bottom line is the gut-microbiota-brain axis needs to remain balanced,” says Dr. Edwards. “We face daily challenges that can destabilize this delicate balance, such as eating processed food, environmental chemicals, heavy metals, and stress.”

She suggests maintaining a balanced gut-brain axis by adding fermented food to your diet to promote a healthy gut; taking Prebiotin daily as food “for the entire microbiota to flourish” and managing stress.

Prebiotin, one of the most researched prebiotic fibers, has participated in numerous National Institutes of Health and other peer-reviewed studies. For a list of Prebiotin and other inulin-related research, check out

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