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Depression and Digestion

Posted by Nirmala N.

I don't know about anybody else but I've noticed that when I go through periods of extreme stress or depression, my digestive system gets all out of whack. I know a lot of people have problems with overeating when they're depressed, but I'm the opposite. I tend to undereat and I also suffer from perpetual indigestion if I'm overly wigging out. I've noticed this can also lead to bad breath, which makes sense, if your alimentary tract is just one long tube through your body. I find that deep breathing exercises, eating fruits and veggies even if I'm not hungry enough for a full meal, and drinking lots of water all tend to help the digestive problems AND the depression. How about other people? Do you find there's a connection between your feelings and your eating habits?
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I also tend to eat little or nothing during depressive episodes and have to make a consious effort to eat. Not eating prepetuates the depression in a major way for me, so I try to have fruits and veggies around. I try to at least snack throughout the day if a regulare meal just isn't appealing. I think this not only helps avert or shorten an emotional spiral, but I believe snacking continually may keep my metabolism from getting all out of wack and sluggish with the undereating. Lots of water, yes, breathing exercises, and regular sleep schedule help too of course. I also steer clear of sugar and other processes foods that tend to, even on a regular day, upset digestion. Definitely seems to be a connection between digestive and mental health.

Anyone notice gluten or other wheat / baked goods causing a depression onset?

I'm not sure if gluten or wheat/baked goods necessarily cause depression, but they definitely zap me of my energy if I overindulge, which I think feeds into the natural connection between depression and sluggishness--so, yes, if you are already feeling dispirited, I think that what you put in your body definitely affects/exacerbates it.

I heard that while normal people are less alert after eating carbs, you may find the exact opposite in clinically depressed individuals.

Folic-acid rich foods, like spinach; selenium-rich seafood, sugar, salt, caffeine and garlic are usually listed among mood-lifters.

Lists of foods causing depression are much longer and very individual - milk, nuts, chocolate, bread, meat, fish, poultry..

The chemistry of depression is pretty complex, involving micro and macro changes in small intestine (jejunum), absorbtion and digestion.

Some studies showed that people eating more carbs handle stress in a better way, others recommend eating more protein...

It's very individual, indeed.


I also eat very little when I am depressed or stressed.  Since I have Crohn's, stress triggers a lot of pain and makes it even more difficult to eat.

Small meals, such as fruit like you suggested, or a yogurt, or even just some toast, will sometimes make me feel a little better and I can eat a bit more a little later on.

I also experience something kind of odd that I haven't heard anyone else expressing.  Sometimes after eating a meal, within about ten to twenty minutes I'll experience a crushing wave of depression that will last for just a few moments and then pass.  It is not a guilt type feeling, it is actual true despair. Have you ever heard of this before?

I have found that eating a heavy meal can stop panic attacks when klonopin doesn't seem to help. Too much sugar can make me almost hypomanic and then depressed for hours or the entire next day. I definitely have to watch what kind of foods I eat, as I am very senstive to stimulants, even acai berries and large servings of blueberries--they trigger hypomania for me.

I also have to make sure I don't "pattern eat", meaning that I'll go for days or weeks where I only want to eat one particular thing for breakfast lunch and dinner. Eating only PB&J 3 times a day or cheese sticks for every meal for a few weeks can cause nutritional deficiencies and food intolerances (they act like food allergies).

When I'm anything but in a "normal" phase I can still manage to eat well, but food goes right through me and I lose dramatic amounts of weight. During a recent year-long mixed state I have gone from 120 lbs to 103 and cannot put on weight. I joke that it's because I'm "renting" my food. It does cause malnutrition and deficiencies for me, so to counteract that I take liquid vitamins and drink high-protein health shakes because I absorb those much better than solids.My pdoc monitors my health by running blood tests evry few months to make sure I'm not deficient--especially because depression, hypomania, and anxiety already send my hormones and entire body out of whack.

As a result of malnutrition, I have started to go all gray way too early and have had to have IV infusions of iron dextran. As one of my doctors said, stress can kill and not just because of heart disease and diabetes. Understanding the link between your mental health and your digestion/nutritional status can be very helpful in recovering! Great discussion topic!


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