The Microbiome, Mediterranean Diet, and Your Mental State

The Microbiome, Mediterranean Diet, and Your Mental State

Ever since I started having mystery digestive issues about 8 or 9 years ago now, I began researching all the different potentials for what could be wrong with me.

After ruling out anything serious, I made some dedicated attempts to try to fix what I thought was an imbalance of my gut bacteria. To this day, I still don’t know if that had much to do with the issue. However, with all the new research happening on the microbiome and how intricately linked it is to so many other parts of ourselves (our stress levels, various illnesses, the list goes on), I have decided to always pay close attention to my diet as well as antibiotic use.

I am someone who has petit mal epilepsy and generalized anxiety disorder. Something significant I have learned over the years is how truly linked all of our conditions can be. My anxiety could have come as a comorbidity with the epilepsy, and my digestive issues may have come from chronic high stress levels over time.

Additionally, about 12 years ago I began getting migraines regularly, primarily during my menstrual period. I learned that this can be due to a hormonal imbalance, such as too much estrogen and not enough progesterone, which can also occur from chronic stress. This was proven to me when I got a hormonal IUD inserted that made my body’s progesterone levels higher, and my migraines disappeared.

It’s clear that managing stress should always be a priority — and especially is a no-brainer in someone with an anxiety disorder. For me, it certainly is. And what a part of managing stress is for me is not just promoting relaxation through meditation, breathing techniques, etc., but making sure my gut does not get totally out of whack again.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known and also one of my favorite doctors to follow, has recently written about the recent microbiome news in his 2020 issue of the Self-Healing magazine.

I’ll paraphrase two of the most recent findings he wrote about regarding the microbiome that I think are important to know:

  1. There may be a link between your gut bacteria and your personality. The magazine states that “various types of bacteria previously linked to autism spectrum disorder were also associated with differences in sociability in those without autism.” The research showed that people who have large social networks and social activity were more likely to have higher microbial diversity.

    The important thing about this is that people with more microbial diversity will typically have lower stress and anxiety levels.

    Not too long ago, I learned about this myself when I took a gut health test from Thryve ( You send in a stool sample, and they give you an overview of what kinds of bacteria your gut has, as well as a general picture of how healthy your gut likely is.

    The really cool thing about this is that they will tell you what strains are out of normal range and how this could be contributing to your mental state, physical traits or other conditions. This test showed me in its overview that I was likely to have anxiety due to my microbiome. Amazing, since it’s 100% correct that I have anxiety, and I really didn’t realize gut bacteria (or lack thereof) could still be influencing this. From there they will formulate a probiotic for you, which I have been now taking monthly.

    So for me it’s just a question of what’s influencing what quicker. Is my anxiety disorder itself affecting my gut and that’s the primary issue, or is my gut worsening my anxiety disorder? Regardless, definitely more evidence there that I should be taking care of my gut.
  2. The Mediterranean Diet May Improve the Microbiome. For quite some time now, there have been plenty of research studies out there showing the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Apparently, a new study about the microbiome is adding to the pile.

    The Mediterranean Diet is one that focuses on eating fish, veggies, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil.

    The study that was done took 612 older men and women, and half of them followed the Mediterranean diet for a year. What they found was that those who ate the Mediterranean diet had a more diverse microbiome than those who followed their typical diet.

    This more diverse microbiome was also linked to better results when “testing for markers of frailty, or age-related weakness, including better walking speed, better handgrip strength, and improved cognitive functioning” (from “The Latest Microbiome News,” Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing 2020).

    More research is needed on this still, but it appears as though the Mediterranean diet can possibly improve microbial diversity through all of the nutrients that it provides, such as magnesium, B and C vitamins, potassium, iron, etc.

    Overall, I’m happy that we are finding out new things pretty quickly on how important the role is that the gut microbiome is for our health. Given this fact and based on my own experience through digestive issues, I can’t stress enough importance on eating well with a diversity of foods, and include probiotic-rich or fermented foods regularly.

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