- nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness
- about 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year
- about 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode, which is 7.1% of all U.S. adults.
- the number of college students with anxiety has doubled in the last 10 years
If you go to your doctor, there’s a good chance you’ll have a 5-minute conversation and leave with a prescription medication.
A pill for your mental woes?
Side effects like:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight gain
- Sexual performance problems
- Loss of libido
- Blurred vision
Some of these medications also have addictive or habit-forming qualities, which means you may need a higher and higher dose to get the same effect and they can be hard to stop taking once you’ve started, which isn’t often part of the discussion with your doctor going in. And it should be, because any treatment started by a doctor should involve informed consent. That means knowing how it can help you, but also knowing how it may hurt you.
Depression is not a deficiency of Zoloft or Prozac. Anxiety is not a deficiency of Xanax or Klonopin. Our pill-popping culture is obsessed with masking symptoms, but not treating root cause.
Clearly, there’s a real need for more, effective solutions without all the side effects.
Enter: Psychobiotics. The future of brain health and a solution that has the potential to replace medications entirely.
Meet psychobiotics: The future of mental health
If this is the first time you’re hearing the term “psychobiotics” I wouldn’t be surprised! It’s a very new area of study that’s exploring the possibility that certain probiotic bacteria may confer a mental health benefit by directly affecting your gut, the gut microbiome, and the types of postbiotic nutrients, including neurotransmitters, produced by your gut flora. This might sound a little “out there” but actually, it’s not.
Research in this area is becoming more robust by the day. Research shows not only that the diversity and abundance of gut bacteria affect overall health but that there is a direct, bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut, which is often called the gut-brain axis. According to a paper published in 2015, dysregulation in this axis — like what occurs when you develop a leaky gut — can lead to neuropsychological disorders. “For instance, altered microbiota has been linked to neuropsychological disorders including depression and autism spectrum disorder…” the authors wrote. Psychobiotics would get right to the root cause of many mental health issues, which is a leaky gut and chronic inflammation.
Leaky gut leads to an inflamed gut —> leaky gut ALSO leads to a leaky blood brain barrier (BBB) —> a leaky BBB leads to an inflamed brain —> an inflamed brain is a depressed and anxious brain.
But are psychobiotics really that effective? According to the small studies that have been done so far, YES. For example, one study showed that administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice resulted in reduced anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors and long-term changes in the functioning of the central nervous system. In another study, women volunteered to drink a fermented milk product with a mixture of probiotics for 4 weeks. The results showed that the drink influenced brain activity in emotional centers. This can result in lower anxiety. Another study showed that consuming Bifidobacterium longum for four weeks reduced cortisol production in response to a stressor in addition to reducing subjective anxiety and daily stress. Finally, multiple studies have shown that certain bacteria can help reverse depression.
Psychobiotics may be a way to maintain the health of the microbiome and the gut-brain axis by addressing the REAL root cause of the issue.
And here’s the really good news: Psychobiotics aren’t the only non-prescription drug therapies that are extremely effective at improving mental health.
5 Non-Drug Therapies That Are Just As Effective As Medications
It’s the last thing you want to do when you’re depressed or anxious, but the truth is that exercise is EXACTLY what the doctor ordered for mental health. In fact, studies have shown that exercise and prescription drugs are equally effective at improving mental health. And when you compare side effects, exercise certainly comes out on top. Not to mention exercise makes you not just more mentally resilient, it makes you immuno-resilient as well.
EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Studies have shown that this therapy can facilitate healing by helping a person access traumatic memories and bring them to a resolution. Many studies have shown that EMDR can be significantly helpful, particularly for healing from trauma and PTSD. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, many people see lasting changes in negative beliefs and physiological distress. If you have any past traumas that are making you feel anxiety in your daily life (whether consciously or subconsciously), then EMDR is definitely something to explore. You can find an EMDR therapist here.
Similar to acupuncture, tapping (also referred to as “psychological acupuncture”) is an alternative modality where you tap on the body with your fingers in specific points that correspond to acupuncture points to create balance in your meridian or energy system. There’s some evidence that tapping can help with PTSD and anxiety. A 2016 review paper showed that there was a significant decrease in anxiety scores when tapping was combined with other treatments. A great place to start is by reading The Tapping Solution.
5. Eco Meditation
There’s another new technique that combines the power of meditation with the power of tapping. It’s called Eco Meditation. MRI brain scans have shown that this type of therapy decreases activity in the brain regions associated with self-focus and suffering and increases activity in the areas of compassion. If you’re looking for another effective therapy to improve mental health, Eco Meditation is definitely worth exploring. The best part is that you can try it out from home, for free. Check out the 7 Steps of Eco Meditation here.
EMERGING THERAPEUTICS: Psychedelics
I’d be remiss if I wrote a blog about emerging mental health treatments and didn’t mention psychedelics, like psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). These options might feel out of your comfort zone, but you can’t ignore the fact that the emerging research on the efficacy of these options is impressive. So much so that Michael Pollan wrote a book about it — How to Change Your Mind. There have been multiple clinical trials over the past few years testing psychedelics under the close guidance of a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. And the idea that these substances can help with mental health has been around for centuries in some cultures. Several trials have shown shockingly positive results:
For example, a study published in November 2020 showed that 71% of people who took psilocybin for major depressive disorder demonstrated more than a 50% reduction in symptoms after four weeks, and half of the participants entered remission.
And these positive effects appear to last for years. Pretty exciting, isn’t it?
The problem: The pharmaceutical industry wouldn’t want you to know that there is a one-time treatment that could resolve the majority of your mental health symptoms. It’s just not good for business. But it is good for your enlightenment and mental well-being.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, you might feel like you’re stuck between a rock (suffering) and a hard place (prescription drugs). I wanted to write this blog to remind you that you have other options. Mental well-being starts with your gut and the important relationship between your gut and your brain. Hopefully, in the coming years, we’ll have a whole lot more options as we explore and refine some of these other therapies, like psychobiotics. A new frontier in mental health has begun!