Your Immune System and Mental Wellness

The mental health epidemic

According to the charity, The Mental Health Foundation, the extent of mental health problems in the UK is becoming overwhelming1:

  • One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year

  • Mental health problems are responsible for 28% of the burden of disease, compared to 16% each for cancer and heart disease

  • Mental health services in the UK are overstretched, have long waiting times and, in many regions, lack specialist services

  • The annual estimated costs of mental health problems are £70-100 billion - that is about 4.5% of GDP.

  • In 2013 there were 6,233 suicides recorded in the UK for people aged 15 and older. Of these, 78% were male and 22% were female


The NHS and social care services are straining under the volume of mental health illness facing the UK. It is no wonder that anti-depressants are now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

The critical question that needs to be asked ... Is there an alternative to mass medication in our society ......?

Mind and body are integrated.
Thomas Jefferson once said that “A strong body makes the mind strong” and as far back as 1910, US families relied on the People’s Home Medical Book for their guidance, which clearly stated that insanity is caused by “imperfect nutrition”2. Now 21st century research is proving these original theories correct, there is growing evidence that there are strong links between physical and mental health problems and the role of nutrition.

It seems that individuals who suffer from major depression are more likely to suffer from other chronic diseases3. Individuals who develop weight-related diseases such as Type II diabetes and obesity are more likely to develop anxiety and depression4. It is also true that depression occurs in up to one-quarter of individuals with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The most concerning fact, that depressed individuals have poorer medical outcomes, including increased likelihood of death5.

Neuro-inflammation
New research has discovered that the immune system, specifically the inflammatory response, underpins and can even induce symptoms of depression6,7,8. Chronic long-term neuro-inflammation (brain inflammation) can lead to the damage or destruction of tissue. This tissue damage can lead to mood disorders and age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's9 and Parkinson's disease10

The premise for Nutritional Immunology is that as inflammation is a contributing factor in chronic illness, and inflammation may be managed through improved nutrition and lifestyle changes. It now appears that inflammation also underpins mental health, and the role of nutrition in mental disorders is becoming accepted in psychiatry,11 leading to a new exciting field of healthcare entitled nutritional psychiatry12.

One perfect example of the role of diet in mental health - when a group of depressed individuals swapped to a Mediterranean-style diet for ten days their mood and cardiovascular function improved13. This is proof positive that in just a short period it is possible to see health improvements when making the right dietary choices!

The Gut-Brain Connection
There is a great deal of evidence which points to damage in the lining of the gut wall as one of the keys causes for the development of chronic inflammation.

The leaky gut, chronic inflammation and link with mental disorders is still a theory14,15, however, it seems that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a greater likelihood of developing psychiatric disorders than those with strong digestive function16 .

Microbiome
One possible player in the gut-brain axis could just be the microbes in our gut. An almost unbelievable fact is that within the human body only 10% of the cells are actually human (really!), the remaining 90% of the cells are the microbial cells (mainly bacterial) that constitute our microflora or microbiome. The majority of our colony reside in the gut, they provide vital assistance by protecting the intestinal barrier, helping to digest some foods, extract nutrients and provide us with important vitamins17.

Whereas we can understand that maintaining a healthy microbial balance is important to digestive health, it is surprising that recent animal research has found that disturbing the delicate balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria can alter the animals’ brain chemistry, leading them to become more aggressive or anxious18. This is leading to interesting research into the possibility of improving mood through probiotic supplementation, referred to as psychobiotics19,20.

In the meantime, whilst we are waiting for an acceptable psycho-biotic pill, perhaps simply adding fermented foods to our diet may just do the trick. Who would have thought that foods such as kefir, natural live yoghurt, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables may just help keep our microbes and as a consequence ourselves just a little happier?21.

How We Work

Scientific References:
1.Foundation, M. H. Fundamental Facts About Mental Health 2015. (2015).
2. Ritter, T. The People’s Home Medical Book. (Barnham, 1912).
3. Moussavi, S. et al. Depression, chronic diseases, and decrements in health : Lancet 851–858 (2007). doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61415-9
4. Cai, D. Neuroinflammation and Neurodegeneration in Overnutrition- induced Diseases. Trends Encocrinol Metab 24, 40–47 (2013).
5. Fenton, W. S. & Stover, E. S. Mood disorders: Cardiovascular and diabetes comorbidity. Curr. Opin. Psychiatry 19, 421–427 (2006).
6. Dowlati, Y. et al. A meta-analysis of cytokines in major depression. Biol. Psychiatry 67, 446–57 (2010).
7. Hiles, S. a, Baker, A. L., de Malmanche, T. & Attia, J. A meta-analysis of differences in IL-6 and IL-10 between people with and without depression: exploring the causes of heterogeneity. Brain. Behav. Immun. 26, 1180–8 (2012).
8. Dantzer, R. Depression and inflammation: an intricate relationship. Biol. Psychiatry 71, 4–5 (2012).
9. Eikelenboom, P. et al. The significance of neuroinflammation in understanding Alzheimer’s disease. J. Neural Transm. 113, 1685–1695 (2006).
10. Wilms, H. et al. Inflammation in Parkinson ´ s Diseases and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases : Cause and Therapeutic Implications. Curr. Pharm. Des. 13, 1925–1928 (2007).
11. Sarris, J. et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry 2, 271–274 (2015).
12. Kaplan, B. J., Rucklidge, J. J., Romijn, A. & McLeod, K. The Emerging Field of Nutritional Mental Health. Clin. Psychol. Sci. 2167702614555413+ (2015). doi:10.1177/2167702614555413
13. Lee, J. et al. Switching to a 10-day Mediterranean-style diet improves mood and cardiovascular function in a controlled crossover study. Nutrition 31, 647–652 (2015).
14. Maes, M., Kubera, M. & Leunis, J.-C. The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression. Neuro Endocrinol. Lett. 29, 117–24 (2008).
15. Maes, M., Kubera, M., Leunis, J.-C. & Berk, M. Increased IgA and IgM responses against gut commensals in chronic depression: further evidence for increased bacterial translocation or leaky gut. J. Affect. Disord. 141, 55–62 (2012).
16. Lee, Y.-T. et al. Risk of Psychiatric Disorders following Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Nationwide Population-Based Cohort Study. PLoS One 10, e0133283 (2015).
17. LeBlanc, J. G. et al. Bacteria as vitamin suppliers to their host: A gut microbiota perspective. Curr. Opin. Biotechnol. 24, 160–168 (2013).
18. Carpenter, S. That gut feeling. Monit. Psychol. 43, 50 (2012).
19. Linares, D. M., Ross, P. & Stanton, C. Beneficial Microbes: The pharmacy in the gut. Bioengineered 5979, 1–28 (2015).
20. Dinan, T. G., Stanton, C. & Cryan, J. F. Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic. Biol. Psychiatry 74, 720–6 (2013).
21. Selhub, E. M., Logan, A. C. & Bested, A. C. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. J. Physiol. Anthropol. 33, 2 (2014).