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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

The Gut and Mental Health

It’s likely that the future of psychotropic medicine will be microbes like probiotics, not pharmaceuticals. We’re learning that what’s inside our guts strongly influences our mental along with our physical health.

Some intriguing examples:

  • A Boston-area psychiatrist successfully treated a teenage girl’s severe OCD and ADHD by adding probiotics to her diet. Within six months her symptoms were greatly reduced. At the end of a year she was symptom free – including free of the digestive problems that had also plagued her. (Arnold, 2013)

  • When anxious laboratory mice who were afraid of water were given the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus (JB-1), they showed lower anxiety levels, decreased stress hormone production and an increase in brain receptors for a neurotransmitter (GABA) that’s responsible for curbing worry, anxiety and fear. They even began hanging out in water, apparently enjoying themselves. The researchers commented that their findings “highlight the important role of bacteria in the bidirectional communication of the gut-brain axis and suggest that certain organisms may prove to be useful therapeutic adjuncts in stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression.” (Arnold, 2013)

  • An article in a major psychiatric journal makes the case that life in modern, sanitary environments triggers inflammatory responses that lead to depression. The rate of major depression seen in younger people has steadily outpaced the rate in older populations. The authors believe this is due to a loss of contact with “our old friends”, the good bacteria our immune systems came to rely on over the centuries to keep inflammation at bay. They point out that depressed people have high levels of gut inflammation, as high as in people with allergies, IBS & IBD, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, asthma, hay fever, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancers and all autoimmune diseases. (Raison et al, 2010)

  • Autoimmune conditions have been found in chronic stress and in a number of psychiatric disorders, including psychotic disorders. An example of connection between the gut and severe psychiatric symptoms is being studied by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are known to have elevated levels of inflammation in their blood and nervous systems from a heightened sensitivity to gluten proteins. This sensitivity produces elevated antibodies against gluten. The antibodies leak outside the GI tract, enter the bloodstream and invade the central nervous system, generating an immune reaction causing inflammation.

Leaky gut can occur when a parasitic organism called Toxoplasma gondii, found in raw meat, water, fruits and vegetables contaminated by faeces from infected animals, is consumed. (Severance, 2013)

As an experiment, how about adding probiotic-rich foods, like kefir, to your diet and see if your mood doesn’t improve.


Arnold, C. (2013).  Gut feelings: the future of psychiatry may be inside your stomach. See Raison, C.L. et al. (2010). Inflammation, Sanitation, and Consternation. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67:12, 1211-1224. Severance, E.G. (July 5 2013).   Schizophrenia, Inflammation & Bacteria, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. See

A version of this page content will appear in my forthcoming 2014 Oriental Medicine Journal article THE MICROBIOTA-GUT-BRAIN AXIS: The constant two-way communication between our guts and our brains.

© Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.



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