In the last 15 years, rates of depression in the United States have skyrocketed. The increase is especially concerning where teens and young adults are concerned—and the depression epidemic comes with a tragic corresponding rise in suicide.
A survey of 41 million health records shows that depression rates have risen universally across the United States. The study reviewed depression rates from 2013 to 2016, and in just three years the rate of increase was very significant. According to health records, major depression among teens rose by a whopping 63%. Young adults faired a little better with a rise of 47%, and those over age 35 saw an increase of 23 to 26%. Of note, however, is that while the older adult population did not rise as much, they already had substantial rates of major depression in 2013—meaning that the increase shows an already bad situation getting worse.
Between the year 2000 and 2016, the rate of suicide has gone up by 30%. A year-by-year analysis shows that suicides were up by 1% each year between 2000 and 2006, then jumped to a 2% rise yearly between 2006 and 2016. Over the time period studied, suicide rose to the second leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34. Not only that, but suicide among girls and women increased by 50%.
Why the Unprecedented Increase in Depression?
What’s behind the frightening rise in major depression and suicide? There are many factors that contribute to mental health, from economic security to the addition of screen time, social media, and an overall tendency for Americans to be busy and overscheduled. But as more research goes into the complex problem of depression and anxiety, we are discovering that physical factors are an important part of the puzzle—specifically, the connection between gut and brain.
A surprising finding is that the bacteria in our digestive tracts (our “microbiome”) plays a major role in our mental health. Research shows that when mice who had been carefully raised in a bacteria-free environment were introduced to different strains of gut bacteria, these strains could significantly influence behavior and mood. It also revealed that mice who showed autistic behavior (repetitive motions and avoidance of social interaction) also had a microbiome that resulted in leaky gut—and, since many people with autism also experience GI problems, that finding is significant.
Another study showed that mice who had been subjected to increased stress had a significant change in the makeup of their microbiome. Stress seemed to have a negative effect on lactobacillus, and stressed-out mice were found to have lost a large number of these beneficial bacteria. Soon after the bacterial losses were documented, symptoms of depression set in.
The rise in human GI problems and depression seems to indicate that our mental health, like that of the mice in the study, is intricately linked with the health of our gut microbiomes. What’s happened in the last 20 years that would cause this sort of damage?
Widespread Use of Glyphosate on GMO Crops Causes Damage to the Microbiome
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup, the most-used herbicide globally. Monsanto developed Roundup and created genetically modified crops like corn, soy, and cotton specifically to resist the chemical—making it possible for large amounts to be used on these GMOs, killing weeds without killing the crops. As a result, many of the common GMOs in the American diet are loaded with glyphosate. Those crops not designed to be Roundup-resistant are often saturated with glyphosate as a drying agent before harvest—increasing our exposure to the chemical.
Glyphosate has other uses, however. It was also patented as an antibiotic.
It’s well known that antibiotics kill bacteria fairly indiscriminately, which is why they can cause diarrhea and other GI issues. When you’re prescribed antibiotics, you’ll often be told to eat yogurt to combat this issue. That’s because yogurt contains lactobacillus, and eating it helps to replace the bacteria that are being killed by antibiotics.
But what about the antibiotics that we’re inadvertently consuming every time we eat something that’s been treated with glyphosate? Studies have shown that, indeed, glyphosate exposure changes the makeup and number of gut bacteria. In addition, “glyphosate-based herbicide exposure leads to despair behavior” in mice.
When lactobacillus levels are reduced, kynurenine (a type of blood metabolite) levels increase.Increased kynurenine is associated with the development of depression. Although the relationship between Lactobacillus and kynurenine are not fully understood, it’s clear that mental health suffers when the balance is thrown off.
The link between glyphosate and depression (as well as anxiety and autism) is happening in our guts, and the current crisis in mental health is being fed by the toxic effects of Roundup on our microbiomes.
The Good News: Healing Our Gut May Heal Our Mood
Although the glyphosate-depression connection is alarming, the news is not all bad. The studies in mice also show that when the Roundup-exposed, depressed mice were fed a diet that included yogurt, their symptoms improved—sometimes, the negative behavior changes were eliminated entirely!
Replenishing the body with strains of lactobacillus, found in yogurt and other fermented foods, seems to be a key to healing depression. Studies have not yet been completed in humans, but it seems likely that replacing missing lactobacillus would have a similar effect.
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, anxiety or an autistic spectrum disorder, it makes sense to eliminate all GMOs from your diet, buy organic food, avoid using Roundup near your home, and add a healthy dose of yogurt to your daily diet. Look for organic, grass-fed dairy to avoid exposure to chemicals, and since many people with damaged guts have a hard time digesting lactose you may need to start with a coconut-based yogurt product. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, natural pickles, kimchi, and kefir are also good for replacing gut bacteria, and you can purchase these in the refrigerated section of your supermarket or make them at home.
For those who are currently on medication for depression or anxiety, adding these foods to your diet can’t hurt—and it might bring relief. As always, however, check with your doctor before going off medications.
Healing takes time and commitment—but knowing that damage to our gut may be fueling the depression that’s plaguing so many today is a step in the right direction.
– GMOs Revealed