The Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. More than 300 million people suffer from this mental disorder globally, with women more prone than men. I’m not referring to passing spells of sadness or fluctuations in mood. Instead, I’m referring to long-term suffering. This debilitating disease affects our ability to function normally within our jobs, schools, families, and communities. Thus, untreated depression can lead to other serious health conditions, worst of all suicide.
Why Don’t We Seek Treatment?
Why is more action not being taken to address this escalating, debilitating issue? Are we not coming forward to seek help? Or we just not being heard? Are we afraid of what others might think of us if we admit to feeling this way? Will we be labeled as having a mental disorder, and rather suffer in silence? Is taking what appears to be the easy way out more appealing to us than feeling like we’ve failed our friends and families? Is the fear of being abandoned for being different outweighing our longing to feel better? Fewer than 50% of those suffering from depression actually receive treatment. Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst those between the ages of 19 and 29, with more than 800,000 people taking their own lives each year. There certainly are effective treatments in place, but undoubtedly more needs to be done.
The Mind-Body Connection
What if we could alleviate or even cure our depression by improving our gut health? How can this even be possible? The gut is actually connected to the brain via the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve starts in the brain, traveling through the neck and the thorax, ending up in the stomach, and forms part of our involuntary nervous system. The enteric nervous system is known as the second brain, because of the millions of neurons that live there. It actually measures approximately nine meters long, traveling from the esophagus to the anus.
Not only do these millions of neurons live there, so do the beneficial bacteria essential for optimal health. This is our microbiome, where around 100 trillion of these bacteria live! They are crucial to our health, supporting our immune systems in the fight against inflammation, infection, and disease. If our gut flora is not fertile and bacteria-rich, our physical body starts to deteriorate. As a result, due to the physical connection between body and mind, our mental and emotional health also starts to falter. Studies are increasingly showing that if the microbiome is disrupted, anxiety, stress, and depression become more commonplace.
Stimulate Those Happy Hormones
The microbiome is now known as an endocrine organ, controlling the production of our happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine, and our stress hormone, norepinephrine. It therefore follows that any long-term treatment of depression that does not examine our intestinal health is merely sticking a band-aid on the disorder and its devastating symptoms. Removing the foods and lifestyle habits that wipe out our good gut bugs is a great place to start on our path to healing. Replacing damaging foods with nutritious, enzymatic alternatives is the next crucial step. Seeking ways to relieve stress and seek more positivity, love, and compassion is a piece of the healing puzzle not to be underestimated. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conquering depression. Let’s look at the root causes and nip it in the gut!