Gut Health Might Be Linked to Depression and Mental Health

New research opens possibilities of probiotic treatment to improve mental health
Jessica Miley

Your gut health may be impacted by your mental health. A new study from Belgian scientists reveals that your brain and your stomach are more closely linked than previously thought.

The study found that people with depression had low levels of the good bacteria known as Coprococcus and Dialister whether they took antidepressants or not. 

The research was conducted by the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven. It examined medical tests and doctors records looking for links between depression and quality of life. 

Depressed patients had low gut bacteria count

The study also examined the feces of more than 1,000 people enrolled in the Flemish Gut Flora Project. The initial findings could have major impacts on the treatment of mental health conditions. 

Lead researcher Jeroen Raes found that the presence of the bugs Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus were more common in the guts of those that reported having a high mental quality of life. Inversely those suffering depression had low levels of both Coprococcus and Dialister. 

Gut microbes evolved to tap into the nervous system

The study doesn’t suggest that poor gut health causes depression, rather mental health issues can have serious effects on digestive and gut health. However, in follow up studies the researchers have discovered that gut microbes have some ability to talk to the human nervous system by producing neurotransmitters that are crucial for good mental health. 

Raes said their initial findings show that gut bacteria can produce the precursors for substances like dopamine and serotonin. Both of these chemicals have critical roles to play in the brain and imbalances of ether have previously been linked to depression.

Interestingly microbes that live outside of the body do not have the same ability to produce neurotransmitters. 

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Sequenced gut microbes rich research resource

Raes suggests this may be because those particular microbes didn't co-evolve with humans and learn the benefits of tapping into a human's nervous system.

If the initial research checks out, a new method for treating mental health could involve boosting the health of your gut. Probiotics and other gut bacteria-enhancing treatments could be used. Raes says further research needs to be done before doctors can start prescribing yogurt though. 

The research will be boosted by efforts from scientists in the UK and Australia who have sequenced the DNA of more than 100 new species of gut microbes. The result is the largest list of human gut bacteria to date. 

The catalog will be used by scientists all over the world who are investigating new treatments for gut-related illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and, obesity.

The research into gut bacteria and mental health was published by Nature Microbiology Journal under the title, “The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression”