Like many of my patients, 33-year-old Dawn didn’t initially make the connection between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, and overall gut health. While we discussed her digestive problems during our initial consultation, she casually mentioned her primary care physician wanted to wean her off selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These antidepressant medications change your brain chemistry but also wreak havoc on your gut and impair nutrient digestion.
Along with about 30 other neurotransmitters, your gut manufactures about 95 percent of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that SSRIs keep circulating. (Worth noting: SSRIs prolong the time serotonin stays stimulating the neurons. These drugs don’t actually make serotonin. They falsely elevate the serotonin that is already there, leading to greater depletions down the road.)
"Want to feel happier, get off SSRIs? You have to mind your gut," I told Dawn before explaining the often-overlooked gut-brain connection. It isn’t just depression that gut health affects but headaches, migraines, allergies, autoimmunity, weight gain, acne, skin rashes, yeast infections, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, immune challenges, and even the way you sense pain can be linked to your gut health. So as a medical doctor who specializes in gut health, when I say things start in your gut—I really mean it!
Your gut comes in continuous contact with important nutrients your body needs, but also toxins, food additives, microbes, and drugs that regularly pass through your digestive tract. Your gut has a huge task to not only serve as a porous filter for the building blocks of life but also to keep out all the detrimental substances you may be exposed to. Beyond being a gatekeeper, your gut digests food and absorbs nutrients, maintains an immune barrier, and helps you detoxify, all while maintaining the correct balance of healthy flora or probiotic (from the Greek pro = "for"; biota = "life") bacteria.