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Why Can't I Beat Depression?

New Research on Enteric Nervous System

If you experience chronic depression, it may be helpful to consider medical research on the complex network of neurons that cover our intestines. Some scientists call this the "second brain", because unlike other central nervous systems, intestinal neurons - known as the enteric nervous system or ENS - do more than just control the movement of substances through the digestive system. The enteric nervous system functions as a second brain, independent of the brain in our head, according to Professor Michael Gershon, chair of cell pathology and biology at Columbia University.

The mass of nerve tissue in the intestine has far greater influence than previously understood. While it does not help the thinking process or make rational decisions; what happens to the brain in our head, the "second brain" partially determines our mental state and mood. It not only regulates itself, it sends signals to the brain that affect memory, learning, decision making and affect mood or sadness.

In the enteric nervous system, the sheath of neurons is embedded in the walls of the nine-meter-long wall of our gut, which is made up of more neurons than either the peripheral nervous system - consisting of the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system - or the uterine cord. Over 30 neurotransmitters are involved in the gut, including serotonin. Dealing with the intestinal environment has been shown to provide significant relief from major depression.

It is well known that food affects our emotions and mood. Foods like chocolate or macaroni and cheese are considered comfort foods; it has been assumed that this is purely psychological, perhaps brought to mind by Mother's cooking, or because of the delicious taste or smell of food. However, research shows something quite different; that certain food components have a direct effect on the stomach neurohormone. Research reported in Malaysia Journal of Clinical Investigation showed that fatty acid foods elevated emotional states and MRI scans showed moderate activation of brain regions, despite having subjects see sad faces or listen to melancholy music known to cause low mood.

This neurohormon is just part of the picture. Medical research shows that the 100 trillion or so bacteria that inhabit our gut, often referred to as probiotics, have an important role to play. These bacteria act as accessory DNA, working to produce their own enzymes and other products that help process our food. Canadian neuroscientist Jane Foster says,

"Intestinal biomass is actually the interface between your diet and your genetics ... Our genetics determine our tendencies, but the gut biome affects how these tendencies work on a daily basis."

After reviewing Dr. Foster, researchers have stated that "Modulation of enteric microbiota can be a useful strategy" for treating inflammatory bowel disease, bowel syndrome, stress disorders and depression.

Fermented foods like Kimchi and sauerkraut have been a traditional food all over the world. However, the modern diet includes some of these foods that have been part of our diet. In some preliminary studies to determine whether probiotics have the most effective effects on emotional processing and strains, researchers found that brain scans taken before and after three weeks of probiotics showed changes in brain function in those taking probiotics, whereas control groups taking placebo shows no change in brain function.

Diseases such as diabetes, bowel disease, allergies, immune disorders, depression and anxiety have declined in recent decades in the modern diet. Highly processed foods are free from the kind of bacteria that our bodies rely on all but several generations of human history.

We only discover the "inner boundaries" of our bodies, and learn more about the complex system of integrated mind connections. When we look for reasons why we feel blue, it can help us see how far we've moved from the Nature that has supported us for thousands of years. It is worthwhile to reconsider the quality of the food we eat, including probiotic supplements.

Because affordability is a major concern for real food, you may want to consider cooperative options such as wholesale clubs, supporting local organic growers and consumer support agriculture. The Internet provides sources where buying directly from growers can result in significant savings, even to the point of finding lower prices than local chains.

My family goes back to some of the strategies used by our grandparents; buying bulk, placing food with canning, freezing or drying of food grown in a home garden or community garden. If money and space are limited, come together to form your own neighborhood or "food cooperative" family to share the freezer space and make bulk bookings in bulk.

If you struggle with chronic depression, you may find that research on our enteric nervous system will give you some valuable ideas on why you suffer from blues, and offer some solutions.

I'd like to hear from you about your experience with depression. What strategies have you found to be most effective in supporting healing? Please share your experience with others in the Comments section below; other people can benefit from your experience.

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