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Study Finds a Connection Between Gut Bacteria and Depression


Sober Recovery Expert Author

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Depression has become more prevalent in our society than many people realize. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 16.2 million adults (6.7 percent of all U.S. adults) and 3.1 million adolescents (12.8 percent of all U.S. adolescents) aged 12 to 17 suffer from depression annually. Without a doubt, depression can plague anyone regardless of their age, gender, or financial status.

Unfortunately, depression isn't easy to spot with the naked eye. It doesn't have easily identifiable outward signs, but it's a real illness with potentially serious consequences. If you have a substance abuse disorder, you may even have a particular vulnerability to this mental malady.

According to research, bacteria accumulated in the digestive system can produce chemicals that can negatively impact mental health.

Some medical experts already believe there is a clear relationship between a patient’s physical and mental health. In a recent study, researchers dive further into this connection, which may actually lie on the microorganisms that live in our gut.

The Impact of Digestive Bacteria on Mood

The gut is full of millions of bacteria, collectively known as the microbiome. Some are considered “good” bacteria and support the health of the body. Other “bad” bacteria may become associated with physical and emotional disorders. An imbalance in the body’s microbiome may lead to a variety of issues, including mental health concerns.

Investigators have found that gut microbiota plays a major role in the communication between the digestive system and the brain. This is referred to as the gut-brain axis, and there is significant research that confirms a strong relationship between the gut and emotional health.

  • Evidence suggests gut bacteria communicates with the brain to influence a person’s frame of mind and their behavior
  • Multiple studies have led to the acceptance that there is a clear link between gastrointestinal health and mental health
  • Additional research confirms that a balanced intestinal system, with beneficial bacteria levels that keep the digestive system healthy, have a positive effect on mood and stress-related disorders
  • Analysis of data uncovered the fact that gut bacteria manufacture 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin (a chemical in the brain which influences mood) can be a reason behind substance abuse for many individuals

Gut-Brain Connection: Latest Findings

It is apparent that when the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract suffers, health consequences may occur. Now, there is even more substantiation that links depression to digestive bacteria levels.

The first population-level study focused on the relationship between gut bacteria and quality of life and depression. The results identified a link between gut bacteria and mental health, particularly depression.

This study strengthened the concept of the gut-brain connection and produced some fascinating results:

  • Particular microorganisms were identified that influence mental health
  • The gut affects mental well-being and is linked to the symptoms of depression
  • Specific gut bacteria were found to be associated with depression
  • Two types of bacteria were “consistently depleted” in those who suffered from depression
  • Perhaps more staggering was that this depletion held true, even if patients were on antidepressants

These results were confirmed across two different and large human sample groups.

Probiotics for Mental Health Wellness

Currently, antidepressants are the most commonly used drugs taken to treat depression. Over 12 percent of the population take this classification of medications and long-term use (over 10 years) was found to be common among 25 percent of its users.

However, if you're looking to support your mental health by way of a healthy digestive system, taking probiotics is a natural option that has shown to help maintain balance in the gut. Here are various ways probiotics can be beneficial to your physical health, thus affecting your overall wellness:

  • It can balance the “good” and “bad” gut by providing beneficial microorganisms into the digestive tract to help improve its microbiota composition
  • According to a study, not only can it help with gastrointestinal discomfort, but it can also relieve symptoms of depression and reduce negative thoughts associated with a sad mood
  • Evidence also shows that probiotics are important for psychological well-being and mood control. People who took a daily probiotic reported having fewer negative thoughts and feeling less sad

As an added advantage, probiotics have very few, if any, adverse events or side effects.

Final Word

It is estimated that one in four adults living with mental health issues, such as depression, also has a substance use problem.

Depression is a serious disease and a healthcare professional should always be consulted before starting any type of treatment. This latest study may help direct future microbiome-brain research and provide new options for the care of individuals suffering from mental health issues, specifically depression.

In fact, the authors of this latest study see hope for the managing of mental health issues and depression in the future. They stated, “I really think there is a future in this: using cocktails of human-derived bacteria as treatment – bugs as drugs, as they say.”

If you or someone you know is seeking help from depression, please visit our directory of depression treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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