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What Does Your Gut Have To Do With Depression?

by Carly Neubert, BA, NC on October 06, 2016

What Does Your Gut Have To Do With Depression?

Depression sucks! It is seriously the pits---literally like a pit of despair.

(If you need a reference for this guy, he's from Princess Bride!)

Depression Defined

Are you one of the 15 million Americans who suffer from depression? I know that I am one of them. I have suffered through varying degrees of depression since I was in 6th grade. For about 10% of the population (maybe more), feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and apathy are a regular part of the day. These types of emotions stay around so long that they become the new "normal" and happiness takes a backseat.  

Most people can't really relate to feelings of depression unless they have actually experienced them first-hand. As human beings we all experience a range of emotions, but when negative emotions and thoughts linger, they lead to clinical depression.

Have you felt before that your life was falling out from underneath your feet? It is that feeling that your body and mind are slowly sinking into quicksand. Like Robin Williams says in Jumanji: 

"Beware the floor on which you stand. The floor is quicker than the sand."

I describe depression as a complete lack of all emotions except fear.  Fear eclipses your mind and body as it blocks all reason and light.  

What is the Medical Definition of Depression?

"Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least 2 weeks and at least five of the following symptoms that cause clinically significant impairment in social, work, or other important areas of functioning almost every day." (Source: ncbi.com)

Ask yourself these questions: 
1. Am I in a depressed mood most of the day?
2. Do I have diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities?
3. Have I experienced significant unintentional weight loss or gain?
4. Do I have Insomnia or am I sleeping too much?
5. Am I agitated or have psychomotor retardation noticed by others?
6. Do I have fatigue or loss of energy?
7. Am I experiencing feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt?
8. Do I have diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness?
9. Do I have recurrent thoughts of death?

If you answered "yes" to at least 5 of the questions, then you fit the criteria for clinical depression. So what are you going to do about? Before you take action, let's discuss what really causes depression.

What Causes Depression?

Scientists used to agree that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. This popular thought led to the development and prescription of hundreds of anti-depressant medications. But even in the face of all of these medications, depression has not been wiped out or even decreased . In fact, rates of depression have doubled since 1999. So what gives? If depression hasn't been cured by anti-depressant medications maybe depression isn't a chemical imbalance. Or maybe depression is more complicated than just a chemical imbalance. Perhaps it doesn't even start in your head, maybe it starts somewhere else.  

Depression and the Gut

I hope that you already accept the fact that what you eat definitely affects your mood. Eating high carbohydrate foods will send you on the dreaded "Blood Sugar Roller Coaster" with your energy waxing and waning all day long. Blood sugar spikes and valleys set you up for crabby moods and zero ability to concentrate.  

But there is something even more insidious than the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster. Brain inflammation has long been linked to diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases. But new research proves that an inflamed brain may be the root of depression and other mental disorders.  

If you are following this upstream, you will wonder: what causes the brain to become inflamed? Inflammation is an immune system response. Immune cells are mobilized to the site of a problem to create and mediate inflammation. If you cut your thumb then immune cells travel to your thumb. Likewise if you have a bacteria in your bloodstream, then immune cells congregate in your bloodstream.  

In the case of Leaky Gut, immune cells are sent to the gut and inevitably end up in the bloodstream. From the gut, these immune cells travel through the bloodstream and end up in your brain.  And once in your brain these cells do what they are supposed to do: they create and mediate inflammation. The problem with this process is that chronic Leaky Gut leads to chronic inflammation in the brain, which in turns leads to medication-resistant depression.

Leaky Gut Leads To Depression Chart


Neurologists Know It

Perhaps this idea is new to you, but I assure you that neurologists have been studying this since at least the year 2008. At that time the scientific study suggested: 

"that patients with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) should be checked for leaky gut by means of the IgM and IgA panel used in the present study and accordingly should be treated for leaky gut."

In plain English, the neurologists who conducted the study recommended that people who are suffering from depression should be tested and treated for Leaky Gut.  

How To Repair Leaky Gut: Collagen

In my article called I Love Your Guts!, I outlined the 4 R's to heal your Leaky Gut. The third "R" is Repair. You must repair damage done to your micro-villi. In order to repair something, you need the right materials. It turns out that glycine, which is found in collagen powders and bone broth, is the limiting amino acid in tissue repair. That means that most of us don't get enough glycine from our diets. That is why it is so critical to supplement with bone broth or collagen powder if you are trying to heal your Leaky Gut. Glycine is literally the basic building block for repairing the micro-villi and epithelial cells in your gut.  

Collagen powder is very similar to gelatin. If you are a child of of the 1980's you are familiar with gelatin. It is the powder that gels up and becomes rubbery once cooled---think Jello. Collagen is the same raw material as gelatin, but it is further processed so that it doesn't gel. That makes collagen powder an easy addition to smoothies or warm drinks.  

Collagen powder is derived from the bones and connective tissues of animals. If you are going to take a supplement with collagen powder you must find a high quality collagen. Most inexpensive collagen is sourced from factory farmed animals. These animals have been fed genetically modified (GMO) grains, given antibiotics, and injected with steroids. Don't waste your money on inferior products. Look for grassfed or pasture-raised collagen supplements for ideal results.  


Depression is a world-wide epidemic, but not everyone is aware that it starts in the gut. Inflammation caused by Leaky Gut is insidious and often goes unnoticed and unaddressed. Depression is a multi-faceted illness and often takes a multitude of interventions. It makes sense to start with healing the epithelial cells and micro-villi, found in your gut, by using collagen.

And in case you're interested, my most up to date recommendation for a collagen supplement is Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. Vital Proteins' collagen are from pasture-raised cattle and are easily added to cold or hot liquids.

For additional recipes, biohacking tips and lifestyle hacks -- check out my other blog on my coaching site www.cleancoachcarly.com! I post weekly about nutrition and lifestyle topics, all backed by science. Happy Reading!

In health,

Carly Neubert BA, NC

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