Nerves. Hopelessness. Stagnation. Depression. Anxiety. These are all terms that seem extremely relevant during this wild ride we call “life” lately - whether you are the one actually experiencing them, or someone close to you is.
Feeling Depressed? Bacteria in Your Gut May Be to Blame
Reading the Wall Street Journal headline above, my first reaction was: of course it’s easier for us to blame another entity / person / thing for our moodiness. However, recent scientific research has discovered that the microbial (microorganisms, especially a bacterium causing disease and/or fermentation) living in our digestive tract may affect and regulate brain function, including mental health.
These same studies are linking our feelings of stress, anxiety and severe depression to disturbances among hundreds of microbe species living in our gut that some researchers have started calling the psychobiome. This “Psychobiome” frequently referred to in this article immediately intrigued me; it’s wildly similar to the “Mind-Gut Connection” concept, suggesting that everything we put into our bodies (from intangibles, like information, or tangibles, like food) have a direct impact on our physical health - and visa versa. As stated in the WSJ article, “The microbes appear to be in almost constant communication with the brain directly by affecting nerve signals and indirectly through chemicals absorbed into the bloodstream”. CRAZY. For example, microbiologist Jack Gilbert says the feeling of “sadness” or “depression” is often associated with gastrointestinal disorders, digestive issues, and other physiological bodily “reactions”.
The microbes, as observed in these studies, appear especially adaptable to changes in the environment, diet and the biochemistry of emotion. As the article states, “While no one yet knows exactly why, patients with various psychiatric disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism-spectrum disorder have significant disruptions in the composition of their gut microbiome”.
When UNDISRUPTED and functioning at “normal” capacity, some pragmatic roles that these microbes and gut bacteria play are:
- make neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which affects neural activity related to mood and memory (*NOTE: artificial serotonin is commonly used to treat depression*)
- make an amino acid called gamma-aminobutyric acid - which naturally blocks some brain signals (*NOTE: gamma-aminobutyric acid is used in medication to relieve anxiety and improve mood*)
When these gut microbes are DISRUPTED (like in patients with various psychiatric disorders as mentioned moments ago), we can think of the microbes as swimming out-of-lane and hijacking parts of systems within the body that we know are affecting emotional regulation. This point was scientifically reinforced when some scientists in the United State, China & Europe over the course of these studies have been able to infect mice and rats with mental disorders - including depression and anxiety - by transplanting gut microbes from human patients with these mental disorders into laboratory mice.