It’s not just the re-opening of Jimmy’s, or Billy B himself going to the Billy B, that can shake the foundations of your mood – bacteria can too. Bacteria in your gut, of all places, where there are more bacteria than humans on the planet.
But it’s not all bad, most of the bacteria are the good guys. We need them for food digestion, maintenance of a healthy gut biome and even in responding to disease and infection through immunity. But what new research has elucidated is that gut bacteria play a huge role in mental health.
“Sickness behaviour” is a term referring to the short-term depression that may arise when you have a stomach bug, causing you to feel like not doing anything at all- and it’s controlled by your gut bacteria. That’s not to say that some don’t give you the highs of Sunday Night Klute; bacteria can affect your mood in all sorts of ways, including bringing it up.
So, what does that mean? Can we manipulate our mood through controlling our gut bacteria microbiome? Recently, it has been shown that gut bacteria are implicated in mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which affect around 300 million people globally.
A study showed sterilised mice raised without a normal gut microbiome exhibited higher stress responses, spent more time with inanimate objects and had less developed brains. Another team of researchers found several species of gut bacteria absent in people with depression and that many bacteria release molecules that affect nerve function – thus could impact mood.
Can we manipulate our mood by controlling our gut bacteria?
Not only do bacteria release molecules affecting neurons, but some can also produce anti-inflammatory molecules, such as butyrate, important in getting rid of disease and maintaining general health. Recent evidence has come to light that depression may have something to do with ongoing systemic inflammation in some cases, suggesting bacteria can play a huge role in the mood disorder.
This has led to novel opportunities for drug and treatment development for depression and anxiety targeting the gut microbiome. Psychobiotics are being investigated to see whether modifying gut microbes can directly alter and improve mood but knowing more about bacterial populations and exactly how they affect mood will need lengthy research.
Image by NIAID via Flickr.