Here’s how probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi help heal depression naturally. Some fermented foods contain probiotics that decrease inflammation and increase brain health.
“I’m struggling with depression because of infertility,” says Julie on Help Coping With Depression When You Can’t Get Pregnant. “I don’t know if I feel better writing about it here because I’ve been talking and writing about my feelings of depression for the last seven years. My doctor wants me to take antidepressants but I don’t want to. Do you know of other ways to cope with depression without drugs? I’m hoping to find foods that lift my mood and spirits naturally. I’ve tried supplements such as blue cohosh but it didn’t work. You don’t seem to be depressed even though you dealt with infertility. What helped you?”
Yay, my favorite type of question! Truly Julie has a serious problem – I don’t mean to diminish her feelings of depression. But yes, I have dealt with infertility and I still have occasional bouts of sadness when I see a baby or a friend celebrates a pregnancy. But I have found many ways to avoid serious depression, and I have definitely found something that naturally lifts my mood and spirit. His name is God, but this blog post isn’t about how Him (other than the foods He creates, the meaning He gives my life, and the energy and freedom He bestows upon me). Here, we focus on how and why the best fermented and probiotic foods – sauerkraut and kimchi – help heal inflammation and depression naturally.
As you may have guessed, my newest food-related discovery is sauerkraut and kimchi. Here, I describe what doctors and research say about how fermented foods and probiotics increase the health of your gut bacteria and decrease feelings of depression.
So thank you, Julie, for asking that question. I hope this helps – and I welcome your comments on fermented foods for healing inflammation and fighting depressed feelings.
Best Probiotic Foods for Healing Depression Naturally – Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Don’t let “probiotic foods” scare you (like they do me). In this article, I’m focusing on two popular, healthy, easily sourced fermented foods: sauerkraut and kimchi. But you might want to be alerted to the words “healing depression naturally.” If you are struggling with serious or even moderate depression because of infertility, grief, drama or trauma from your past, you could eat all the best probiotic foods in the world and you wouldn’t be healed.
It’s important for you to know what depression feels like before you start eating healthy fermented foods in the hope that you will stop feeling depressed. Eating the right food won’t heal severe or major depression. In this article when I talk about healing depression, I’m referring to mild and low-grade depressed feelings. I’m not talking about serious clinical depression or complicated grief that can lead to severe depression.
How depression and probiotic foods are linked
“Many physiological and psychological processes associated with depression can be traced to a deficiency in the neurotransmitter GABA,” writes Jordan Davidson in The Psychobiotic Revolution in PsychologyToday magazine. “Lack of GABA in the brain may bring on the negative rumination long linked with depression. Chief among them are strains of lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium… A number of microbes are capable of producing other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Taking Bifidobacterium infantis as a probiotic, for example, alters levels of serotonin – just like Prozac.”
In nonscientific terms, this means that certain probiotic foods can help with healing depression naturally – if those foods contain those microbes that produce happy hormones. Hello kimchi and sauerkraut! Of course, healing depression naturally depends on the cause of your depression and how your body responds to different types of probiotics. If you gag at the thought of eating sauerkraut and kimchi even though you know they’re the best types of probiotic foods, your feelings of depression and sadness may well increase when you sit down for supper.
Depression is an inflammatory disease that fermented foods can help
In Brain Maker: The Power of Gut to Heal and Protect Your Brain – For Life, Dr. David Perlmutter quotes several research studies that link inflammation, gut microbes, fermented foods, and depression. You have to read that book to get the full picture of specifically how probiotic foods can help heal depression naturally. Here, I’ll share a few highlights from Brain Maker.
“Depression can no longer be viewed as a disorder rooted solely in the brain,” says Dr Perlmutter. One research study shows that when healthy people who have no signs of depression are given a substance that triggers inflammation, classic depressive conditions develop almost instantly.
Further research also shows that antidepressant medications may work in some people by decreasing inflammatory chemicals. In other words, the actual treatment for depression by antidepressant may have nothing at all to do with their effect on the brain chemical serotonin. Treating depression may have more to do with decreasing inflammation than increasing happy hormones.
How sauerkraut and kimchi affect depressed feelings
“At MIT, a team of biologists has shown that a specific strain of Lactobacillus reuteri, delivered in either yogurt or its supplement form, improves mood, appearance, and general health by increasing levels of oxytocin, a hormone that kicks in when you cuddle, hug, or have sex,” writes Davidson in The Psychobiotic Revolution.
Research shows that other microbes act directly on nerve cell receptors to influence brain states. Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is found in sauerkraut and kimchi, improves the functioning cannabinoid receptors in the spinal cord. These receptors help regulate pain and directly affect how your brain responds to your internal and external environment.
Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi have a direct effect on your guts, which directly affects your brain. Your brain is a huge part of the reason for and because of depression. So eating fermented foods that are high in probiotics can help with healing depression naturally by doing exciting things in your guts. In a good way.
I especially love two things about these probiotic foods:
- Kimchi and sauerkraut are not harmful to your health and won’t interact negatively with other prescription medication. Supplements and certain vitamins can have detrimental effects on your physical and mental well-being, but natural healthy foods that are fermented can’t hurt you.
- Kimchi and sauerkraut can have positive effects on inflammatory gut diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
I have an inflammatory intestinal disease, which I write about in A Simple, No-Cook Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan. So not only am I happily eating a tablespoon of sauerkraut or kimchi at lunch and dinner to help heal depression naturally, I’m also enjoying the benefits in my intestinal tract.
Probiotic foods affect how your brain works
In one UCLA study, researchers found that women who ate yogurt containing probiotics showed decreased activity in both the insula and the somatosensory cortex during the emotional reactivity task. The insula is the part of the brain that processes and integrate internal body sensations, like those from the gut. The women who ate probiotic foods also displayed greater connectivity between a key brainstem region and areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with cognition.
“The fact that changes in our guts affect our brain’s response to negativity or emotionally stirring images is just mind boggling” writes Dr Perlmutter. “But it’s also empowering! It means that what we put in her mouth and how we feed our gut bacteria do indeed affect our brain’s functionality.”
To heal naturally, learn the causes of your depression
It’s natural to feel anxious and even depressed on occasion – especially if you’re dealing with infertility, loss, grief, or personal struggles. However, if your feelings of depression or even anxiety are unrelenting, you need to consider making lifestyle changes so you can heal. If your depressed feelings are interfering with your quality of life, they become matters of mental illness.
“Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults in any given year,” writes Dr Perlmutter in Brain Maker. “These include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. And while the research is still in its infancy, it’s becoming clear that anxiety disorders, as well as depression, are caused by a combination of factors that most definitely include the state and function of the gut and its inhabitants.”
How probiotic foods are created by fermentation
The reason kimchi and sauerkraut are the best probiotic foods for healing depression naturally is because they are fermented. The type of fermentation that makes most foods probiotic (rich in beneficial bacteria and good for your guts, brain, and depression!) is called lactic acid fermentation. In this process, good bacteria convert the sugar molecules in foods such as cabbage, radishes, etc into lactic acid. This makes the bacteria multiply and proliferate.
The lactic acid that is created from this process protects the fermented food from being invaded by pathogenic bacteria because it creates an environment with a low pH balance. This kills off harmful bacteria that have a higher pH balance. In the production of fermented foods today, for example, certain strains of good bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus are introduced to the sugar containing foods to jumpstart the process.
If you’re trying to conceive, kimchi and sauerkraut are NOT foods you want to avoid if you want to get pregnant. Just sayin’ 🙂
Why kimchi is one of the best probiotic foods for depressed moods
Kimchi is one of the best probiotic foods because in addition to providing beneficial bacteria, kimchi is also a great source of calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, B1, and B2. The only problem with kimchi for some people – whether or not they struggle with feelings of depression – is that kimchi can be very spicy. But it’s one of the best probiotic foods you can add to your diet if you can handle the heat.
Kimchi is a form of cabbage that undergoes lactic acid fermentation and can take up to a year to ferment fully (the longer kimchi ferments, the hotter and stronger it tastes). Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and dates back to the seventh century. The average Korean eats around 40 pounds of kimchi every year, and kimchi is believed to have helped keep obesity rates lower in Korea than other countries because of its low calorie count.
I don’t know if Koreans believe that kimchi is one of the best probiotic foods to help heal depression, and I don’t know if Koreans are more or less depressed than North Americans. But I think a probiotic food such as kimchi is worth trying – especially if you’re searching for different foods to help treat depression. What have you got to lose?
How sauerkraut helps heal depression naturally
Sauerkraut is another excellent probiotic food; it is fermented cabbage that fuels healthy gut bacteria and contains choline. Choline is a chemical needed for the proper transmission of nerve impulses from the brain through the central nervous system.
Sauerkraut is one of the oldest fermented foods; it can be made with white or red cabbage, and traditionally only has salt added. Originally discovered as a helpful therapeutic aid for the digestive tract, sauerkraut is used for its digestive enzymes, probiotic bacteria, lactic acid, vitamins, and minerals. Sauerkraut is often eaten with meats (eg, hot dogs, steaks, pork chops, etc) to aid in their digestion by providing its own enzymes to help break down the meat and to engage stomach acids. Eating sauerkraut will boost your immune system through its high vitamin C content. Sauerkraut also contains large quantities of acetylcholine, which helps lower blood pressure, slows heartbeat, and promotes a sense of calmness which is beneficial for good sleep. And of course, sleep helps fight depression naturally! Unless of course you sleep all the time.
You only need to eat a small quantity – even a small bite of sauerkraut – to get good effects from this probiotic food. The lactic acid is what can preserve unpasteurized sauerkraut for more than a year in the refrigerator. Don’t buy unpasteurized sauerkraut if you really want to find the best probiotic foods for healing depression naturally. Unpasteurized sauerkraut does not need to be refrigerated. Commercial pasteurization destroys sauerkraut’s health benefits because the heat destroys its natural enzymes and healthy bacteria. So, when you’re buying sauerkraut at the grocery store, make sure you’re buying unpasteurized sauerkraut.
What do you think of sauerkraut and kimchi as the best probiotic foods for healing depression naturally? While I can’t offer advice on depressed feelings or a probiotic diet, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experiences with fermented foods, inflammation, and healing from depression.
I don’t know how depressed you are or why you’re struggling with feelings of depression, but I pray for healing and wisdom, faith and hope. May you find the best help (including maybe even probiotic foods to help you heal from depression naturally!) – and may you combine healthy eating with a strong sense of spirituality. May you grow healthy and strong through this experience, and may your life be blessed with joy, connection, and love.