Scientists are exploring evidence that major depression may in part be a gut feeling, orchestrated by the microbiome—trillions of microorganisms living in and around our bodies, which influence our health and well-being.
In a series of studies, researchers are discovering that the microbial menagerie living in our digestive tract may help regulate brain function, including mental health. Recent findings by scientists in the U.S., Europe and China are linking our feelings of stress, anxiety and severe depression to disturbances among hundreds of microbe species living in our gut that some researchers have started calling the psychobiome.
Conversely, other bacteria in the gut appear to produce some of the same substances used by doctors to treat depression and may naturally play a role in maintaining our emotional balance.
“The feeling of malaise, if you will, is often associated with gastrointestinal disorders,” said microbiologist Jack Gilbert at the University of California, San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who helped pioneer the study of the human gut microbiome. It is “chemically altering nerve signals going into the brain, which alter brain chemistry and therefore behavior, mood and, we believe, depression and anxiety.”