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Tackling Depression? Good Bacteria May Just Be the Boost You Need

gut bacteria

Tackling Depression? Good Bacteria May Just Be the Boost You Need


Intestinal flora—the bacteria living in your guts—plays a role in your general wellbeing, including mental health.

Wait… Intestine and mental health? Where's the relationship? It may sound pretty far-fetched, but it's anything but that.

The gut and brain share a profound link known as the gut-brain axis. The bacteria (microbiota) in the gut facilitate communication between the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain and the intestine. In summary, a gut filled with "bad" unhealthy bacteria can impair mental health, and one packed with "good" bacteria can promote it.

These good bacteria are known as probiotics and are often added as an ingredient in yogurt. When consumed, probiotics promote gut health.

Interestingly, new research by the University of Basel has shown that probiotics can help alleviate depression.


Gut Bacteria and the Psyche

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was once visited by "the black dog," a state he described as having no energy, no interests, and no appetite. "The black dog" is now a common metaphor for depression, originated by the prime minister.

Many mental health experts use medication and therapy to help people battling the black dog. However, they realized the same methods weren’t effective for every patient. So what could be the problem?

Now, some past studies have shown that digestive and intestinal problems are prevalent among patients with depression. When their intestinal flora is taken and put inside healthy mice, the mice start to display symptoms of the black dog. They become less energetic and uninterested in their environment. Apparently, there was something wrong with the intestinal flora.

If bad gut bacteria could cause a healthy animal to become depressed, perhaps replacing that with good bacteria may be all the patient needs to tackle the depressive symptoms.

Researchers from the University of Basel and the University Psychiatric Clinics Basel (UPK) proceeded to verify this hypothesis by investigating the effects of probiotics on patients with depression.


The Research

The researchers administered probiotics to 21 participants and gave a placebo to another 26 participants for 31 days. They were all given antidepressants during this period. Save for the researchers, neither the study staff nor the participants knew what they were taking in.

At the end of the period, there was improvement across all participants due to the antidepressants, but it was more significant among those who took probiotics. The probiotics had either boosted the effects of the antidepressants or directly alleviated their depressive symptoms.

But that's not all. The researchers also discovered that the composition of the probiotics subjects' intestinal flora changed during the study period. There was an increase in lactic acid bacteria, which was followed by a reduction in depression.

However, the results weren't eternal. The condition of the intestinal floral waned over the next four weeks.


Final Thoughts

Perhaps, a 31-day probiotic treatment may not be enough to tackle depression permanently. However, we have seen how beneficial these good gut bacteria can be to our physical and mental health.

While researchers develop ways to integrate probiotics into traditional depression interventions, patients could at least consider consuming foods containing these living microorganisms.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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