Research connects the dots between depressive symptoms and “gut” bacteria; it holds promise for better treatments

When Atlantic Gastroenterology supports “gut” health, we are also doing our part to protect the mental and emotional health of our patients in Brooklyn, New York City, and the greater Tri-State Area. 

Human Gut Microbiome in Brooklyn NY Area

A study published in the online edition of Nature December 6, 2022, represents significant strides in connecting the dots between the human gut microbiome and risk factors for mood disorders, including depression. “Microbiome” refers to bacteria, viruses, and fungi, while “gut” refers to the digestive tract. As a board-certified gastroenterologist, our own Dr. Alexander Shapsis specializes in preventing, diagnosing, managing, and treating conditions associated with the GI tract and liver. 

The study

Researchers in the Netherlands looked at the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome among 1,133 study subjects. Furthermore, their analysis was replicated in some 1,539 subjects. These researchers controlled lifestyle factors and the use of medications that can modify the microbiome. 

In this carefully-designed and extensive study, researchers isolated the presence of specific bacteria as risk factors for depression. They found that 12 “genera” and one “microbial family” were “more abundant” in those individuals with greater symptoms of depression, a common condition with a worldwide average lifetime presence of 11% to 15%. When looking at other types of bacteria and bacterial families, their presence was actually depleted in individuals with depressive symptoms. 

Additionally, findings suggest that the diversity of microbiota in the gut is “significantly” positively associated with depressive symptoms (in both groups of study subjects). 

Why these microbiota? 

It is believed that bacteria such as Eggerthella are implicated in the development of depression and, potentially, conditions such as anxiety due to their function and role in synthesizing serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Serotonin and GABA are natural chemicals with demonstrated mood-boosting properties. 

What it all means 

Up until now, studies and their ensuing findings were quite limited. They either had a small sample size, lacked reproducible associations, or did not adjust for lifestyle factors and the use of pre and pro-biotics and medications to regulate moods. In addition, few prior studies explored the links between gut microbiome and depression in people. They may have been limited to studying how germ-free rodents reacted to the transference of certain bacteria from depressed humans. 

As a robust, thoughtfully-designed, and reproducible study, these findings can be trusted and have substantiated linkages between the presence and composition of gut microbiota and depressive symptoms. These findings could present new ways to protect against and effectively manage this common global disease. Furthermore, researchers contend that there are “translational applications” associated with their findings for treating other neuropsychiatric disorders. 

As discussed in the Nature report, treatment options at present are “suboptimal,” with some antidepressants performing only “marginally better” than placebos. These antidepressants may also carry a range of unfavorable side effects, from minor cognitive concerns to severe suicidal ideation. The genetic or familial association has only been found to have a “small effect” in large studies of depressive patients. This newest research has positively gone beyond genetics and has identified molecular and biological biomarkers and factors. 

There is great promise that we can positively influence brain activity and behavior by controlling the bacteria in the gut. So, at Atlantic Gastroenterology, we take this responsibility very seriously. And we are in the best possible position, due to our specialized expertise, to harness the power of gut microbiota and its capacity to potentially minimize depressive symptoms. 

Proactive diagnoses and treatment are at the heart of all that we do. Contact our practice in Brooklyn, NY, today with questions or to schedule a visit. Our office may be reached at 718 521-2840. Or you may request an appointment (in-person or virtual consult) from this website.

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