What's Your Gut Got to Do with Your Mood?

Your Brain is the Back Seat Driver in Depression & Anxiety

 Did you know that what goes on in your gut can affect your brain? The “gut brain axis” refers to the two-way communication between the gut and the brain, and it’s powerful. I feel the gut is really the first brain and our head is the second brain. And you’ll soon see why.

But first, how do these two brains actually talk to one another?

We have four information carriers (autonomic neurons and neuroendocrine factors) that make this bidirectional communication possible. These are:

1.     Sensory neurons

2.     Cytokines

3.     Gut hormones

4.     Gut microbiota-derived signaling molecules.

While two of these messengers carry output from the brain to the gut, the others carry input from the gut all the way to the brain. The gut tells the brain what to do more than the brain dictates what the gut should do. Hence, in my opinion, the gut acts as the first brain and our anatomical brain is more like the “back seat driver.”

The gut microbiota may in fact be the single most influential component of the gut brain axis. The two-way relationship between the microbiota and the central nervous system means that when there is a disruption in the constitution of microbes, brain chemistry and behavior can change (Mayer et al., 2015, Tillisch 2014).  Vice versa, the proceedings of the brain can stimulate changes in the microbial constitution of the gut thereby effecting gastrointestinal function like motility and secretion (Park et al., 2013).

What is going on with the bacteria in your gut (microbiota) can dictate your mood and actually cause depression and anxiety. The microbiota is a central player in the gut brain axis, and consists of some 100 trillion bacteria with over 1,000 different species, outnumbering human cells 10-100 times (Zhou and Foster, 2015). So when you think about how much influence the bacteria in your gut (gut microbiota) have on our thoughts, our feelings, our mood and our behavior, it’s easy to see how the two are connected.

The best way to maintain a healthy microbiota and ward off depression and anxiety is to monitor your diet. So what exactly do we need to do to do that? In my opinion there are 3 main things we must do in order to keep our microbiota healthy and decrease your risk of depression and anxiety: I call them the 3F’s

1.     Fermented Foods: Take a probiotic daily of at least 50 billion colony forming units and eat fermented foods particularly kefir or yogurt with live active cultures (preferably lactobacillus plantarum for a good source for homemade starter click here).

2.     Fiber: Eat 35 grams of fiber per day from vegetables, nuts seeds and fruits per day

3.     Fats: Do not ingest any hydrogenated or trans fats. But do eat good fats such as avocado, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and ghee.



  • Mayer et al. Gut/brain axis and microbiota. J Clin Invest. 2015 Mar 2;125(3):926-38.
  • Tillisch, K. The effects of gut microbiota on CNS function in humans. Gut Microbes. 2014 May-Jun; 5(3):404-10. 
  • Zhou, L. and Foster, J. Psychobiotics and the gut-brain axis: in pursuit of happiness. Neuropsychiatry Disease Treat. 2015 Mar 16; 11:715-23.