In recent years, the idea of understanding and regulating gut bacteria through an ever-growing list of “gut friendly” diets has taken hold in the world of personal health. It’s no secret that these tiny microbes influence our digestion, allergies and metabolism and many have been quick to jump on the gut health trend.
These gut bacteria are included in the microbiome, the bacterial ecosystem in our bodies that plays a role in countless bodily functions, including how our brains work. Recent studies suggest that the assemblage of bacteria in our bodies, including around 1000 different species of microbes, may be heavily tied to autism, anxiety, depression and other cognitive disorders.
Scientists have pinpointed potential links between gut microbes and autism, noting that about three-quarters of people with autism also suffer from gastrointestinal issues such as food allergies or gluten sensitivities. By studying those with autism, researchers recognized that autistic people’s microbiome differed slightly from a control group.
Microbiologist, Sarkis Mazmanian, from the California Institute of Technology focused in on a particular species called Bacteroides fragilis and noted that some children with autism had lower quantities of the species. In a paper published in the journal Cell, Mazmanian and her team fed B. fragilis to mice that displayed autistic-like symptoms. As a result, the animal’s microbiome was shifted and the mice became less anxious and were able to communicate more with other mice.
Several other teams have studied different microbes that seem to help regulate anxiety and depression, meaning that these bacteria could truly have a far-reaching impact on mental health. Though the research has not yet extended to humans, researchers are hopeful that these microbes could hold the key to affecting the way we understand cognitive disorders.
Bacteria found in the gut is an unexpected potential source for finding new mental disorder treatments and understanding the way our bodies work as a whole offers new hope for finding healthier and more natural remedies for things like anxiety and depression.
Top photo by thephotographymuse, CC BY 2.0
Lauren Leising is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.