By Amy Norton
Researchers found that among over 2,100 adults, those with depression showed differences in specific groups of gut bacteria. And people with higher concentrations of certain other gut bugs generally reported better mental well-being.
The research, published online Feb. 4 in Nature Microbiology, is the latest to uncover links between human health and the gut microbiome. The term refers to the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the intestines.
Those microbes are believed to do much more than aid in digestion. Research suggests they are involved in everything from immune system defenses to producing vitamins, anti-inflammatory compounds and even chemicals that influence the brain.
So his team looked for links between gut microbes and depression among over 2,100 adults taking part in two health studies. The investigators found that levels of two specific groups of gut bacteria — Coprococcus and Dialister — were “consistently depleted” in people with depression.
Meanwhile, people with higher levels of Coprococcus, and another group of bacteria called Faecalibacterium, typically gave better ratings to their quality of life.
But, he said, further studies should zero in on the bugs.
Mayer said the new findings add to evidence of an association between the gut and mental well-being.
“It’s the chicken-and-egg question,” Mayer said. “People with depression certainly have different diets, and different habits, than people without depression. And that would affect the gut microbiome.”
Raes said further research is needed to see whether there is such a “vicious cycle.” For now, he said, “we can’t say that.”
Studies in recent years, largely in animals, have been uncovering links between the composition of the gut microbiome and the risks of various health conditions — from other brain-related disorders, like dementia, to obesity, to autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
And even if the gut microbiome does influence depression symptoms, Mayer doubted that anything as simple as a probiotic supplement would offer a quick fix. Both the microbiome and depression are too complex.
Diet changes can do that, he pointed out.
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SOURCES: Jeroen Raes, Ph.D., professor, medicine, KU Leuven-University of Leuven, Belgium; Emeran Mayer, M.D., Ph.D., professor, medicine, physiology and psychiatry, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles; Feb. 4, 2019, Nature Microbiology, online
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