Depression and anxiety in pregnant and postpartum mothers are the most common diagnosis with 1 in 5 women experiencing anxiety and 1 in 7 experiencing depression ( Fawcett, 2019). That is a huge number, so it begs to question on how are doctors screening related symptoms and what is the treatment? Naturally, for a nutritional therapy practitioner, this brings me to the gut-brain connection. We know that the gut is referred to as the second brain, but how can that reference be associated with this increase in depression and anxiety in pregnant and new moms?
Perinatal mood disorders have impact on mom and baby. Doctors tell pregnant mom’s all the time to keep stress down without much information how to do so besides taking deep breaths, napping, taking on less work. Easier said than done, right? Especially when pregnancy brings on so many emotional changes already (thanks hormonal fluctuations). Studies over the years have been able to identify that the gut plays a role in the baby’s development and regulation of the immune system and central nervous system. This makes a lot of sense when we take a look at how I’ve spoken on leaky gut impacting our immune responses and moods. For example, our gut houses 80% of cells of the immune system so if our gut is struggling we will see poor immune function. In addition, serotonin is produced by the cells of the colon but stimulated by the gut microbiome (NTA, 2020). A mother passes on many things to their baby; studies have proven this and have even proven it carries on through generations (Koren et al, 2012; O’Mahony et al., 2015; Meltzer-Brody, 2011; Lima-Ojeda et al., 2017; Jolley et al., 2007; Gold et al., 2002). With those gut-brain connections being proven, why isn’t nutrition apart of the maternal mental health discussion? There should be protocol to educate on how much gut health has an impact on pregnant women, their babies, and generations for years to come.
Mother’s who are experiencing depression and/or anxiety are shown to produce more IgA and IgM antibodies (Maes et al., 2012). This means, that the immune system is responding to the emotions of stress by producing inflammation. Stress has such an impact on our health, it’s insane and it really is a bummer because how do we avoid it? Especially in today’s world where women are expected to have careers, have a clean home, be the family chef, be the perfect wife, and be the attentive calm mother. Don’t forget we also need to have a social life and work out consistently. Unfortunately, this makes me feel like it is so uncommon to be without stress, so how can we support our mental health when we can’t reduce our stress in order to reduce the inflammation in our gut? Nutrition!
Our diet impacts our microbiome (gut), mood, stress, and immune system. Hopefully by now you can see how they all are related. One study showed that probiotic supplementation had lower reports of depression and anxiety symptoms in pregnant women (Slykerman, et al., 2017). These results are huge in how perinatal moods can be support through natural nutrition, and ultimately reducing emotional and immune impact for generations. Adding prebiotics and probiotics to a pre/post-natal regimen would have wonderful benefits. If supplements are your speed, I suggest Just Thrive or Megaspore.** If you’d rather support your gut with whole foods then there are plenty of options to include in your diet! Prebiotics are non-digestible compounds within our food that feed healthy bacteria, while probiotics are living micro-organisms that help digest out food. The prebiotics feed the probiotics, so it is important to incorporate both into your diet.
Fawcett, E. J., Fairbrother, N., Cox, M. L., White, I. R., & Fawcett, J. M. (2019). The Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: A Multivariate Bayesian Meta-Analysis. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 80(4), 18r12527. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.18r12527
Jolley SN, Elmore S, Barnard KE, Carr DB, 2007. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in postpartum depression. Biol. Res. Nurs 8 (3), 210–222. 10.1177/1099800406294598.
Koren O, Goodrich JK, Cullender TC, et al., 2012. Host remodeling of the gut microbiome and metabolic changes during pregnancy. Cell 150 (3), 470–480. 10.1016/j.cell.2012.07.008.
Lima-Ojeda JM, Rupprecht R, Baghai TC, 2017. “I am I and my bacterial circum-stances”: linking gut microbiome, neurodevelopment, and depression. Front. Psychiatry 8 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00153.
Maes M, Kubera M, Leunis J-C, Berk M, 2012. Increased IgA and IgM responses against gut commensals in chronic depression: further evidence for increased bacterial translocation or leaky gut. J. Affect Disord 141 (1), 55–62. 10.1016/j.jad.2012.02.023.
Meltzer-Brody S, 2011. New insights into perinatal depression: pathogenesis and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum. Dialogues Clin. Neurosci 13 (1), 89–100.
O’Mahony SM, Clarke G, Borre YE, Dinan TG, Cryan JF, 2015. Serotonin, tryptophan metabolism and the brain-gut-microbiome axis. Behav. Brain Res 277, 32–48. 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.07.027.
Slykerman RF, Hood F, Wickens K, et al., 2017. Effect of lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 in pregnancy on postpartum symptoms of depression and anxiety: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial. EBioMedicine(September). 10.1016/j.ebiom.2017.09.013.
*not medical advice. please speak with your medical professional before taking supplements*
** discuss with your practitioner about dosing