Mental health organisation Beyond Blue says depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. In 2014, Australia’s suicide rate rose to 12 per 100,000 people, according to the Bureau of Statistics. With the drastic increase in the prevalence of such conditions, advancements in our treatment & preventative approaches may be on the way.
As I wrote about in my latest article The Gut Brain Connection – there is a significant amount of research pointing to the gut as being causative in the development of mental health issues. One of the most striking studies regarding this phenomenon was conducted by researchers in 2011, where a team administered a specific probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus to groups of rats & observed drastic changes in their neurochemistry.
The researchers had two groups of mice, a control group & an experimental group, both of which were subjected to testing. What the researchers found is that by administering the probiotic to the experimental group of mice, levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid) were significantly increased. Importantly, GABA is involved in a very important interplay within the brain in actually dampening nerve impulses. Why is that important? GABA actually acts as a preventative measure from our brains becoming ‘too active’ if you will; essentially it calms the brain down. GABA has been shown to be in low levels of patients with anxiety & depression.
The researchers also found that levels of stress-induced corticosterone (stress hormones) were reduced in the mice administered the probiotic! So being exposed to the same stressors did not affect the mice receiving probiotics as much as it did the group who did not receive the probiotic. This could also be said as the mice who received the probiotic remained more biologically calm than their counterparts who didn’t receive any Lactobacillus. Another interesting note is that the researchers found that the mice receiving the Lactobacillus rhamnosus exhibited less depression-related behaviour.
This study’s biggest asset, though, was in how the researchers then retested this theory on two new sets of mice, however they had removed the Vagus nerve in the new groups & found that the neurochemical & neurobehavioral effects were non existent! This gives huge strength to the standing that the microbes within our guts constantly communicate with our brains via the central nervous system; the vagus nerve. Expectedly, study leaders were excited about the findings.
“Together, these findings highlight the important role of bacteria in the bidirectional communication of the gut–brain axis and suggest that certain organisms may prove to be useful therapeutic adjuncts in stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression.”
As I’ve been writing for the past few years, expect big changes in how we approach the mental health equation. Alternatives to the pharmaceutical approach are arising, specifically, the use of targeted probiotic strains with proven efficacy against such issues as depression & anxiety will come to the fore from both sides of the medicine table….hopefully.
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Sources for this article include
Bravo, J., Forsythe, P., Chew, M., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H., Dinan, T., Bienenstock, J. and Cryan, J. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.
Disclaimer: Remember to always work with your well qualified, nutritionally-versed practitioner when it comes to the management & treatment of illness. The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only & should not be considered medical advice.