Gut Health and Depression

As research continues into the connections between our brains and guts, researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) have recently announced new data that shows stomach ulcers are linked to depression and mental health issues.

Though Australian researchers Robin Warren and Barry Marshall proved that peptic ulcers were caused by the H. pylori bacteria, Professor Naomi Wray and Dr Yeda Wu at UQ have determined that treating gastrointestinal diseases requires a holistic approach to include mental treatments too. Professor Wray notes that people with genetic variations may be at more of a risk of ulcers/susceptible to H.pylori infections, and that studying the genetic differences of patients could determine the best way to treat them physically and mentally (University of Queensland, 2021).

Their research with the UK Biobank, which has gathered health and genetic data from nearly 500,000 patients, has determined that patients with depression have increased risk of gastrointestinal diseases. They suggest that GORD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) symptoms can result in depression due to its painful and socially isolating effects, and being aware of a patient’s mental health may, in the future, help diagnose other potential causes of gastrointestinal diseases. They do recommend further research in the future, as solid, confirmed links between depression and GI diseases are still being explored.

Regardless, this study is promising and shows that gut health can affect and be affected by mental health, particularly when gut issues cause discomfort, pain, and social withdrawal which can worsen depression. The genetic angle is interesting, too, as some people may be more susceptible to infections and mental health issues at the same time – knowledge which may aid medical professionals in preventing diseases before they appear.

From current knowledge, however, we already know that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can improve your mental health and gut health, particularly with the foods we eat. Eating high fibre foods and omega-3 fatty acids can improve digestion and reduce inflammation, along with prebiotics and probiotics which promote a healthy gut flora which aids with digestion as well.

Overall a healthy gut leads to you feeling healthy and that can reduce your chances of mental health issues which may in turn worsen your gut health. It’s a rough cycle.

How do you maintain your physical and mental health?