Why Fermented Foods May Be the Next Big Antidepressant

Gut microbes may influence your behavior.

Researchers have now confirmed what once seemed impossible: Microbes generate neurochemicals!

Research is starting to catch up to what the Body Ecology Diet has been teaching for the last 20 years. Science now suggests that the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract may have a great influence on your brain activity.


Feeling happy? It may have something to do with eating fermented foods, made from the Veggie Culture Starter, that populate the gut with good bacteria to affect your mood for the better.

Fermented Foods and Brain Health

In the past 15-20 years, we have seen a growing interest in microbiology. It turns out that bacteria are responsible for many mechanisms in the body. Researchers have found gut bacteria to be such an influencing factor on human health that they now refer to the gut microbiome as the “second brain.”

In their book The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long-Term Health, Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, explain, “The enteric nervous system is often referred to as our body’s second brain. There are hundreds of millions of neurons connecting the brain to the enteric nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is tasked with controlling the gastrointestinal system. This vast web of connections monitors the entire digestive tract from the esophagus to the anus.”1

This second brain, or separate nervous system, contains an estimated 500 million neurons, stretching 9 meters long. When you add to that the fact that bacterial cells outnumber human cells in the body 10 to one, it becomes clear how powerful, and how all-encompassing, our second brain really is.2

So far, we know that the symbiotic microbes in our gastrointestinal tract:3,4,5,6,7

  • Buffer the effects of a genetic predisposition to obesity.
  • Communicate with and regulate the immune system.
  • Detoxify heavy metals from the body.
  • Help digest food.
  • Help heal and protect the lining of the gut.
  • Improve heart health and balance cholesterol levels.
  • Regulate levels of the body’s most powerful antioxidant, glutathione, to fight off chronic disease.
  • Play a role in reducing inflammation both in the gastrointestinal tract and in other areas of the body.
  • Promote gut motility.
  • Protect against food allergies.
  • Synthesize vitamin K and important B vitamins.

Scientists have studied the mood-altering (and antidepressant) effects of beneficial bacteria before.

In 2010, one study looked at the Bifidobacterium longum in mice.8 These mice were infected with a parasite, and the vagus nerve was severed. The vagus nerve connects the gut to the brain.

This nerve would be what neurotransmitters and signals travel on:

  • They found that the probiotic longum reduced anxiety-like behavior.
  • Some route other than the vagus nerve was responsible for the calming effect of beneficial bacteria.

Another significant study in 2009 noted that beneficial bacteria reduced anxiety in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). However, at the time, the mechanism was not fully understood.9 Just a few years later, and we have a much clearer picture of how gut bacteria can affect behavior and mood. The powerful connection between the first brain and the second brain has been solidified by findings like Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science’s 2015 study, where a toddler’s gut bacteria were correlated with behavior.10 UNC School of Medicine researchers discovered more this year about the gut-brain axis, linking the eating disorder anorexia nervosa to a lack of bacterial diversity in the gut.11 Because of groundbreaking research like this, the Kavli Foundation believes that boosting beneficial bacteria in the gut could prove to be a promising treatment for psychiatric and neurological disorders, including anxiety and depression.12

Researchers have now confirmed what once seemed impossible: Microbes generate neurochemicals!

In the immune system, bacteria can influence the expression of certain chemicals that inhibit or promote inflammation, which is an immune response. Researchers have found that microbes do not merely interact with the endocrine system, as they do with the immune system.

They actively contribute to it.

Professor Mark Lyte from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, lead researcher of the healthy gut-healthy mind study published in BioEssays, says that this is quite possibly a new field where “microbiology meets neuroscience.” Lyte speculates that the discovery of neurochemical-producing bacteria could have profound implications in the fields of gastrointestinal health and psychology.13

The Wonder of Your Second Brain

What are neurochemicals anyway? Neuro implies “brain.” Chemicals are molecules. Neurochemicals are molecules that play a role in brain activity. Neurochemicals can influence how we think and feel. Neurotransmitters are a type of neurochemical that can cross the synapses between neurons to communicate.

Neurotransmitters do exactly what the name implies: They transmit signals between nerve cells:

  • It is important to realize that neurochemicals are not only produced in the brain.
  • For example, 90 percent of serotonin is made in the gastrointestinal tract.

Gut bacteria produce neurochemicals that circulate through our bloodstream. Lyte proposes that probiotics affect behavior by producing their own neurochemicals, which we use. The effects are outside the walls of the intestines because these bacteria-specific neurochemicals were found in the bloodstream of patients.

Microbes exist in an interactive environment, Lyte explains. An interactive environment means that several systems in the body are all affected at once. So, gut bacteria have an influence beyond the gastrointestinal system. Lyte proposes that bacteria participate in the regulation of the hormonal system, the immune system, and the nervous system.

Proof That Fermented Foods Make Us Happier

Dr. Gregor Reid, from the University of Western Ontario, commented on Lyte’s research. He said that while the idea seems “almost surreal,” Lyte supports the concept with studies to back up the claim.

Microbes both synthesize and respond to neurochemicals. And this affects both the immune system and the brain, including psychology. Dr. Reid adds that many of the probiotic strains that we eat in traditionally fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchee, and yogurt, are producing neurochemicals.

What does this mean about the fermented foods that you already eat? Keep eating them! Both modern science and traditional medicine value the health-promoting benefits of fermented foods. As much as possible, and with every meal, include either a fermented food or a fermented beverage.

Making fermented veggies is easy with the Veggie Culture Starter. If you don’t have time to make coconut water or milk kefir, start with a few ounces a day of InnergyBiotic, a probiotic beverage that will change the way you think and feel!

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Scientists are shocked by what they have discovered in the past 20 years: Good bacteria in the gut can influence your behavior and even affect your mood. Gut bacteria influence the expression of immune system chemicals that inhibit or promote inflammation, and gut bacteria also contribute to the endocrine system. Neurochemicals produced by gut bacteria play a role in brain activity to change how you think and feel.

To put it all in perspective, 90 percent of a neurochemical like serotonin that regulates mood is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Microbes in the gut are “interactive,” meaning that they affect multiple systems in the body at the same time.

The good bacteria in fermented foods produce neurochemicals that can dramatically benefit our health and even affect our mood by making us happier. You can receive the same mood-boosting benefits at home with convenient Body Ecology fermented foods and drinks — try drinking the ready-made probiotic InnergyBiotic or making cultured vegetables with the Veggie Culture Starter.

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  1. Sonnenburg, Justin. The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long Term Health. London: Bantam, 2015. Print.
  2. “How Bacteria in Our Bodies Protect Our Health.” Scientific American Global RSS.
  3. Sartor, R. Balfour. Probiotic therapy of intestinal inflammation and infections. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology: Gastrointestinal Infections. Vol 21: 1, 44-50. Jan, 2005.
  4. T. Stefka, T. Feehley, P. Tripathi, J. Qiu, K. McCoy, S. K. Mazmanian, M. Y. Tjota, G.-Y. Seo, S. Cao, B. R. Theriault, D. A. Antonopoulos, L. Zhou, E. B. Chang, Y.-X. Fu, C. R. Nagler. Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1412008111.
  5. Siegfried Ussar, Nicholas W. Griffin, Olivier Bezy, Shiho Fujisaka, Sara Vienberg, Samir Softic, Luxue Deng, Lynn Bry, Jeffrey I. Gordon, C. Ronald Kahn. Interactions between Gut Microbiota, Host Genetics and Diet Modulate the Predisposition to Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. Cell Metabolism, 2015; 22 (3): 516 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2015.07.007.
  6. Jingyaun Fu, Marc Jan Bonder, María Carmen Cenit, Ettje Tigchelaar, Astrid Maatman, Jackie A.M. Dekens, Eelke Brandsma, Joanna Marczynska, Floris Imhann, Rinse K. Weersma, Lude Franke, Tiffany W. Poon, Ramnik J. Xavier, Dirk Gevers, Marten H. Hofker, Cisca Wijmenga, and Alexandra Zhernakova. The Gut Microbiome Contributes to a Substantial Proportion of the Variation in Blood Lipids. Circulation Research, September 2015 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.115.306807.
  7. Mardinoglu, S. Shoaie, M. Bergentall, P. Ghaffari, C. Zhang, E. Larsson, F. Backhed, J. Nielsen. The gut microbiota modulates host amino acid and glutathione metabolism in mice. Molecular Systems Biology, 2015; 11 (10): 834 DOI: 10.15252/msb.20156487.
  8. Chronic Gastrointestinal Inflammation Induces Anxiety-Like Behavior and Alters Central Nervous System Biochemistry in Mice. Gastroenterology. Vol 139 : 6, 2102-2112.e1, Dec 2010.
  9. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Gut Pathogens. Vol 1, Num 1, 6. 19 Mar 2009. DOI: 10.1186/1757-4749-1-6
  10. Lisa M. Christian, Jeffrey D. Galley, Erinn M. Hade, Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, Claire Kamp Dush, Michael T. Bailey. Gut microbiome composition is associated with temperament during early childhood. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2015; 45: 118 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.10.018.
  11. Susan C. Kleiman, Hunna J. Watson, Emily C. Bulik-Sullivan, Eun Young Huh, Lisa M. Tarantino, Cynthia M. Bulik, Ian M. Carroll. The Intestinal Microbiota in Acute Anorexia Nervosa and During Renourishment. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000247.
  12. Kavli Foundation. “Could gut microbes help treat brain disorders? Mounting research tightens their connection with the brain.” ScienceDaily.
  13. Lyte, M. Probiotics function mechanistically as delivery vehicles for neuroactive compounds: Microbial endocrinology in the design and use of probiotics. Bioessays. doi: 10.1002/bies.201100024.
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