Lifestyle Psychiatry and the Gut Microbiome

  • The gut microbiome consists mostly of bacteria and that is largely the portion of the microbiome we are focusing on (fungi and viruses exist but their function is largely unknown) 
  • Communication pathways exist between the microbiota-gut-and brain. 
  • Multiple mechanisms exist that allow gut microbiota to signal to the brain and control physiological processes. 
  • These include release of gut peptides from enteroendocrine cells which activate receptors of the immune system and vagus terminals in the gut. 
  • Studies indicate that these bacteria can manufacture and secrete essential neurochemicals including serotonin, dopamine, NE, GABA, and acetylcholine 
  • Depression and anxiety have been linked to a less well diversified gut microbiome.
  • What can help diversify the gut microbiome? Diet, processed food, sugar, saturated fats, and red meat. Medication can also alter the gut microbiome, a good example is oral antibiotics used to treat an acute infection, sleep, exercise. Sounds a lot like a healthy lifestyle will get you the microbiome you need for optimal mental health. 
  • However, if you want a treatment there have been several studies that looked at fecal transplant to treat psychiatric disorders. Fecal transplants are much easier these days and now there is a capsule version that you take orally. There is not enough data to recommend this as a practical treatment and if the patient goes back to eating a poor diet, sleeping poorly, not exercising then the gut microbiome will revert after the transplant. 
  • What are the practical things you can do? Stop eating processed food, sugar, and red meat. Increase your fiber intake and select a diet like the Mediterranean diet or a plant based whole food diet that will provide those prebiotics. You could supplement with a probiotic but most of what you need can be had from a good diet alone and I think it’s far better to change the diet then to try using supplements to treat a poor diet. Fermented products like kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are good sources of live bacteria.
  • If you choose to take a probiotic make sure it’s a quality, 3rd party tested product. 
  • Increase aerobic activity, I think if you goal is overall general health and you have limitted time, I think aerobic activity is a better bang for your buck. 
  • The way I believe you get and keep a healthy gut microbiome is through lifestyle modification. Improving your diet, exercise, and sleep is a good place to start. If you want to supplement with food products like kimchi or kombucha, go for it. I do not believe there is enough evidence to support a probiotic supplement for psychiatric disorders at this point, but if you want to spend $30 or more per month on a product if it’s a quality one that’s fine. Remember you cannot supplement away a bad diet. 

Lifestyle Medicine for Psychiatry: Lessons in Being Resilient

In this video I focus the discussion on the exercise/physical activity portion of lifestyle medicine for psychiatry. Exercise is an underrated and underutilized tool for fighting depression. It can have a profound impact on mood, and helps people learn to be more resilient.

Key Findings Include: 

  • For resistance training, higher intensity and shorter duration provides improvement in mood symptoms 
  • For aerobic exercise, durations of 45-60 minutes appear to provide the most improvement in mood symptoms. Longer and shorter durations showed less benefit. 
  • Keep it simple and just get started. There are a million different programs, and you can easily find yourself worrying to much about getting all the information and not enough time worrying about exercising.
  • The simplest way to start is with a daily walking routine. Spend six months consistently walking for 45-60 minutes. That’s it, no special equipment or significant out of pocket expenses required. 
  • A walking routine will set the foundation for adding additional forms of exercise including resistance training

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