How Do Stress, Emotion, and Diet Affect the Gut?

Stress, Emotion, Diet and the Gut


photo by Shira Gal

The Gut – Brain Connection

It has becoming more accepted in the psychiatric literature as well as in the functional medicine that there is a bidirectional connection between the brain (central nervous system) and the gut (the gastrointestinal tract) through endocrine pathways.

Stress Affects The Gut

Stressors of various nature, either psychological or physiological, can alter the gut microbiota’s composition and the changes in the microbiota, represented through metabolic activities can influence the brain response.1

Emotion and the Limbic System

The limbic system plays a central role in regulating emotion and also is the center of the gut control.2 The generation of emotions and attached physiological reactions are most likely generated at this brain level (a very primitive part of the brain).

Depression and The Gut

In more recent scientific communications it has been suggested that depression can promote intestinal permeability as a result of chronic inflammation leading to a condition known as ‘leaky gut’. Leaky gut is another name for intestinal hyper-permeability that allows different substances (such as toxins, microbes and undigested food particles) to pass into the blood stream.

Diet and the Gut

Diet plays an important role in addressing the condition, such as ingestion of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are beneficial forms of gut bacteria that helps the intestine to function properly. Examples of probiotic foods include: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, microalgae, miso soup, pickles, tempeh (made from soy, a great source of vitamin B12 too), kimchi (an Asian form of pickled sauerkraut), Kombucha (fermented tea). For those who don’t find any of these appealing, tablets of probiotics are also good.

Prebiotics and the Gut

The prebiotics are enzymes that help the good bacteria to grow in the intestine. They are found in asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, garlic, onions, oatmeal and legumes. They are also available in forms of supplements.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Another source of interest in affective disorders as well as in autism, and schizophrenia has been the Non-Celiac Gluten sensitivity (NCGS). The literature and studies are limited on the subject but it has been suggested that there is a relationship between the NCGS and neuropsychiatric disorders. Some studies point at the inflammation triggered by the gliadin in people sensitive to it and the ‘leaky gut syndrome’ associated with it.  The IgA detected in affected individuals suggest an inflammatory response to the gliadin that is found in wheat, barley, rice, and an exclusion of these products could reduce the neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with the “leaky gut” (migraines, Irritable Bowel syndrome, tiredness, chronic fatigue, etc).3

Listen To Your Body

Because research on diet and gut is still in it’s infancy it is important that you monitor how you feel after you eat certain foods. Obviously, if a food makes you feel bad you can reduce or eliminate it and see how you feel.

Integrative Treatment in Psychiatry

We take an integrative treatment approach with all our clients because we believe that any treatment that we recommend should be based on a very thorough history, questionnaires, targeted laboratory testing, and results from a physical exam.

Examples of core imbalances we assess for include:

  • Structural, boundary, and membrane imbalances
  • Genetic Mutations
  • Psychological and Spiritual
  • Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Oxidation-reduction imbalances and mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Detoxification, neurotoxicity, and biotransformation imbalances
  • Immune imbalances (Cytokine hypothesis)
  • Inflammatory imbalances
  • Digestive, absorptive, and microbiological imbalances

If you like this article on How Do Stress, Emotion, and Diet Affect the Gut, or have questions, schedule your first session by calling us at 713.426.3100



1 Inflammation:Depression Fans and Flames and Feasts on the Heat: Kiecolt-Glase PhD, and colab, Am J Psychiatry, 172:11, November 2015, pg 1075-1091

2 Brain–gut connections in functional GI disorders: anatomic and physiologic relationships: Jones, MD and colab, Neurogastrointestinal Motil, 2006, 18, 91-103.

3 Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders,  Catassi and colab, Nutrients 2013, 5, 3839-3853.

Depression and Inflammation: What You Need To Know

Ask your psychiatrist if inflammation could be contributing to your depression…

depression and inflammation

In the last few years there has been an increased interest in the link between depression and inflammation. More and more research has been done to understand depression better and find other ways to combat it besides using antidepressant medications. Depression is the most widely spread cause of disability in the world, and these medications do not always work for everybody.


Inflammatory Disorders and Depression

One of the many things pointing to the relationship between depression and an inflammatory process is the fact that depression is frequently associated with other inflammatory disorders such as autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and cancer.

Another important finding is that inflammatory markers are associated with major depressive disorder (MDD). One in five persons with cardiovascular diseases experiences MDD. Up to 70% of patients with autoimmune disorders experience MDD. About 15-20 % of cancer patients also have depression. Diabetes doubles up the rate of depression. Many meta-analyses studies show that individuals with MDD have significant increase in inflammatory markers like TNF-alfa and IL-6.


Stress and Inflammation

Since depression can develop in the absence of other inflammatory diseases, one theory is that stress (acute and chronic) is associated with the increased availability of proinflammatory citokines. Psychological stress can activate inflammation; however, depressed patients have difficulty controlling the body’s inflammatory response to stress. When the inflammatory pathway is initiated, a cascade of reactions results that decreases the serotonin level and boosts the glutamatergic response; thus creating depressive symptoms.


How Does This Apply to Depression Treatment?
  1. This medication helps decrease immunotherapy-induced depression, reduce the inflammatory response, and lower the pro-inflammatory factors.
  2. Stress Management. Managing stress effectively and proactively decreases inflammation.
  3. Healthy Diet. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits and Omega 3 is helpful in reducing inflammation.
  4. Exercise. Aerobic exercise has a well-documented impact on reducing inflammation and acts as one of the best destressors.

If you like this article on Depression and Inflammation, or have questions, schedule your first session by calling us at 713.426.3100.

  1. Depression and Inflammation: Examining the link: Maria Almond, MD, MPH Current Psychiatry, vol 12, no 6, 25-32.