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    Random thoughts, some science, and the latest research.

    Major depression is the second leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a significant contributor to suicide and heart disease. Therefore it is imperative that we strive to find new ways to prevent and manage depression. Recent advances in medical technology have allowed scientists to discover that our gut bacteria, something that little was known about in the past, is in fact a vital organ which not only helps to maintain the gut barrier, but also functions as a metabolic and endocrine organ. It appears our gut microbiome helps regulate immune function, cholesterol/lipid metabolism and even has an impact on our mental health. Early evidence that gut microbiota can influence serotonin and its precursor tryptophan highlights the microbiome as a potential target in the management and prevention of mental illness.

    So the big question is, is it possible to manipulate the function of our microbiome to promote good mental health? Recent pre-clinical evidence suggests this may be possible. The composition of our microbiome is largely determined in our first few years of our life, but it appears that environmental factors such as stress, diet, medication, geography can change our microbiome’s function during adulthood. It is hypothesised that these changes are moderated by the central nervous system via the ‘gut-brain axis’. There is a large volume of observational data suggesting that healthier diets are significantly associated with lower rates of depression, across all ages and cultures. We also know that fat, protein and carbohydrate can alter the composition of gut microbiota. Pre-clinical studies have shown that antibiotics and prebiotics (which alter gut flora) are associated with a significant change in depressive behaviours. Could the improvement in depression observed when following a healthy diet be mediated by changes in the gut microbiome?

    There is only one preliminary study which looks at the changes in gut microbiota in depression, and it had inconclusive results. Although research is in its early stages, this is an exciting new space to watch! Interestingly there are a few case studies of patients who have undergone faecal transplants to treat intestinal disease, whose depression has resolved following transplant…..food for thought.

    • Rob Lawson

      Great article Natalie. We will cover this topic at the BSLM Conference on 1st July!

    • Carolyn Valentine

      Very well written article!

    • Well written article – one thing often overlooked is the role of exercise on gut health. Here’s an article I wrote on this topic you may find interesting: https://www.primalplay.com/blog/exercise-and-the-gut-microbiome

    • Jo Romero

      This is fascinating! It’s exciting that we are finding answers to this, we’re living in exciting times. I did a course about the gut microbiome last year and they raised questions about the links between microbes and depression and anxiety, and even behavioural traits. I think I remember there was a study done where microbes were swapped over from timid rats to more confident rats and the timid rats became more confident and inquisitive and the confident ones more withdrawn and timid. Fascinating area of science, excited to see what will be found out in the future.

    • Natalie Salvesen

      Jo – yes I read about that experiment – it’s amazing. Just to think that using natural things like diet and exercise can have such a huge impact is exciting. Also interesting to think that one thing we do not consider when prescribing medications is the impact it will have on the patient’s microbiota – and the possible consequences of this. Scientists in America are trying to map the genome of all human gut bacteria (a huge task if you consider how much it took to code just the human genome – and that there are thousands of species of gut microbiota). You can even send them a sample for their research and you get your gut microbiota profile back!(http://humanfoodproject.com/americangut/)!
      Darryl – thanks for your article I will have a read – I don’t know much about exercise/microbiota!