There has been a growing link between what you eat and your risk of depression. New evidence is tying that link to dietary fiber and indirectly, to estrogen.
The Food – Mood Connection
In my best selling book, The Estrogen Fix, there is an explanation about estrogen’s role on GUT bacteria. In a thumbnail sketch, estrogen influences the type of bacteria in the GUT. The GUT bacteria are responsible for digesting the dietary fiber that you eat. The more dietary fiber you eat before entering menopause, the lower the risk of depression.
This latest study published in the journal Menopause adds to our understanding. It finds that eating enough fiber not only helps to keep you healthy; it helps to keep you happy. We know that getting, and being able to digest, enough fiber lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Now there is evidence that getting enough fiber also lowers the risk of depression in premenopausal women.
You don’t need to by a psychiatrist to know that depression is a common and potentially serious condition. And it is more common in women than in men. Depression can affect a person’s ability to work, their relationships, and their self-worth. Depression in some instances can lead to suicide. We’ve known for a long time that women around the time of perimenopause and menopause are more susceptible to depression, and that has been linked to lower estrogen levels. This study helps to tease out why.
It’s known that diet and exercise and mindfulness can help to lower the risk of depression. But it’s hard to get the will to change your diet or to exercise when you’re feeling OK. Getting motivated to exercise when a person is depressed is really hard. In this study, more than 5,800 women of various ages, were studied to investigate the relationship between dietary fiber intake and depression and what role, if any, menopause played. Dietary fiber is found mainly in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Previous studies have already suggested the benefits of fiber for mental health, but this is the first known study to understand the association of depression to whether or not a woman premenopausal or postmenopausal. It did that by studying women who were both pre and postmenopausal and who underwent natural, as well as surgical, menopause.
The study showed that the more dietary-fiber premenopausal women eat, the lower their risk for depression. That was not the case for women who were postmenopausal. That seems due to the reduced amount of estrogen produced by women who pass through menopause. Why? Because estrogen affects the balance of gut microorganisms found in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. The theory is that changes in the balance of gut-microbiota composition change the way the GUT communicates through nerves with the brain. Fiber improves the richness and diversity of gut microbiota.
This study contributes to earlier ones about the FOOD-MOOD connection. It seems possible for premenopausal women to improve their mood by simply adjusting their diets to include more dietary fiber. Women in menopause may be able to achieve the same results if they are taking estrogen.