December 11, 2020

Microbiome Study Reveals the Bacteria Possibly Responsible for Depression

There's a well-known link between gut health and mental wellbeing.

Everyone wants to be happy. From books to life coaching, we've created an entire industry dedicated to teaching us how to inject more meaning into life and put the bounce back in our step. But perhaps the cure for happiness may be closer than we think. The famous writer William Arthur Ward once said, "happiness is an inside job" - science says he was on the right track.

"Happiness is an inside job"

William Arthur Ward
There's a well-known link between gut health and mental wellbeing. And in a study published in Science Advances in December of 2020, a group of scientists pondered an intriguing question: what's the difference in gut health between someone who has major depressive disorder and someone who's healthy?
After examing the stool of 311 people with and without major depressive disorder (MDD), the scientists saw clear differences. Those with MDD had more Bacteroides bacteria and fewer Blautia and Eubacterium species in their gut. Excessive Bacteroides bacteria causes increased inflammation, often seen in people with MDD. Blautia species, on the other hand, have an anti-inflammatory effect.
World Health Organization Vitamin D

Gut health may be different for healthy people versus those with major depressive disorder. Photo Credit.

The study also found differences in the levels of important brain chemicals in the intestines of the participants. GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that prevents sleeplessness and depression, was lower in people with MDD compared with the healthy subjects.

Probiotic Craze

Besides depression, poor gut health has been linked to other health conditions, including autism and obesity. The explosion of research on the benefits of a healthy gut has fueled a movement to promote gut health and prompted a probiotics craze. The global probiotics market was valued at $48 billion in 2018 and continues to grow, along with the promise of a happy healthy gut.
The popularity of probiotics has caught the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Claims of better health and curing of disease are often spotted on probiotic labels, but the FDA has "not approved any probiotics as a live biotherapeutic product (LBP), a biological product other than a vaccine that contains live organisms used to prevent or treat a disease or condition in humans". Though there are FDA-regulated-foods that include probiotics as ingredients, they, like many other supplements, are banned from claiming that they cure or prevent any disease.
Like the FDA, the National Institute of Health is watching the quickly evolving research on probiotics.
When considering the use of probiotics, they say to remember this:

A great deal of research has been done on probiotics, but much remains to be learned about whether they're helpful and safe for various health conditions.

Probiotics have shown promise for a variety of health purposes, including prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (including diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile), prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis and sepsis in premature infants, treatment of infant colic, treatment of periodontal disease, and induction or maintenance of remission in ulcerative colitis.

However, in most instances, we still don't know which probiotics are helpful and which are not. We also don't know how much of the probiotic people would have to take or who would be most likely to benefit. Even for the conditions that have been studied the most, researchers are still working toward finding the answers to these questions.

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