Get me some yoghurt because microbes that inhabit your gut may have an impact on your mental health, a major study has found.
Researchers in Belgium found that people with depression had consistently low levels of bacteria known as ‘Coprococcus’ and ‘Dialister’ whether they took antidepressants or not, The Guardian reports.
If initial findings stand up to scrutiny, it could pave the way for new treatments for mental health disorders based on probiotics that boost ‘good’ bacteria in the intestines.
Jeroen Raes from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven looked at medical tests and GP records to find links between depression, quality of life and microbes in the faeces of more than 1,00 people in the Flemish Gut Flora Project.
He found two kinds of bugs ‘Faecalibacterium’ and ‘Coprococcus’ were more common in people who claimed to enjoy a high mental quality of life. Those with depression were found to have lower levels of ‘Coprococcus’ and ‘Dialister’.
The study reported in Nature Microbiology doesn’t prove gut microbes affect mental health – with the possibility it could be people’s mental health having an impact on the bugs inside them. But in follow-up experiments Raes and his team found evidence gut microbes can talk to the nervous system by producing neurotransmitters that are crucial for good mental health.
We studied whether gut bacteria in general would have a means to talk to the nervous system, by analysing their DNA. We found that many can produce neurotransmitters or precursors for substances like dopamine and serotonin.
Microbes that live outside the body – eg those found in soils – are not able to create the same kind of neurotransmitters, perhaps because they did not co-evolve with humans, Raes said.
If low levels of the bacterias are to blame for some depression, there may be the potential for probiotic treatments to boost their population in the gut. However, Raes said, the connection has to be proved first.
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