Gut Microbes and Mental Health

By: Aya Hilal


In our digestive tracts, 100 trillion microbes reside, commonly referred to as gut bacteria. These bacteria are complicated and mysterious, serving as the subject for cutting edge research today. The gut microbiota metabolizes nutrients from foods, helps produce vitamin K, and protects the body from infections that occur in the intestines. Recent research is unveiling some fascinating correlations: the trillions of bacteria that reside in your gut may play a role in mental health and wellbeing.


The intriguing theory that the gut microbiota may have the ability to impact mental health is a relatively new one. In light of discoveries delving into the microbiological world of the intestines, some biologists are suggesting that the clinical community should consider that mental health patients could benefit from microbiome profiling. In a study reported in Nature Microbiology, researchers in Belgium investigated a possible correlation between depression and the relative absence of gut microbes known as Coprococcus and Dialister. The researchers accounted for sex and age and whether the subjects with depression took antidepressants or not. In their findings, they reported that people with depression had consistently low levels of Coprococcus and Dialister. Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus bacteria were also found to be associated with an indication of a higher quality of life. Jeroen Raes of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven along with his colleagues found that Veillonellaceae and Lachnospiraceae among other species of bacteria are correlated with schizophrenia sensitivity. Utilizing a module-based analytical framework, the researchers also discovered that gut bacteria can “speak” to the body’s nervous system. Raes stated, “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.” Raes and his team discovered that Coprococcus has a pathway to dopamine. These microbiological breakthroughs have opened the floodgates, leading researchers from all over the world to conduct studies investigating the mysterious effects gut bacteria may have on mental health and wellbeing as a whole.


So, what implications do these studies hold for treating mental illnesses? According to Raes, novel modern therapies may be developed from this new knowledge. If the connection between gut bacteria and mental health is solidified, there may be an uptake in tailored probiotics being utilized to treat depression and schizophrenia. In fact, some companies are already experimenting with oral bacterial supplements. The future holds all kinds of possibilities that are dependent on both further research and the standardization of the tools used to pinpoint the specificities of microbiological data. Although scientists predict the transition to therapeutic human clinical trials will be difficult, many are hopeful of what future studies may reveal.



What Did You Learn?

Questions:

1. What are some functions of the gut microbiota?

The gut microbiota metabolizes nutrients from foods, helps produce vitamin K, and protects the body from infections that occur in the intestines.

2. What did Raes state about gut bacteria “speaking” to the nervous system?


Raes stated, “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.” Raes and his team discovered that Coprococcus has a pathway to dopamine.


Citations:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/02/evidence-mounts-gut-bacteria-can-influence-mood-prevent-depression#

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/gut-microbes-may-play-a-role-in-mental-health-disorders-66039

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-018-0337-x

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31530002

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/04/gut-bacteria-mental-health-depression-study

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6606431/

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00483-5

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