Treat the Gut, Treat Depression


PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but for some, money worries coupled with family stress can trigger depression. Studies have shown as many as 30 to 60 percent of people who take antidepressants do not get adequate relief from depression. Now a team of Philadelphia researchers is looking beyond the head to the gut for answers. treat the gut

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a study that demonstrates the biological interaction between brain and gut, starting in animals.

Jiah Pearson-Leary, a Research Associate at Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia said, “We were able to show that gut bacteria from stress-vulnerable rats, if you introduce that into a rat that had never been exposed to stress, that rat would now have some of the depressive characteristics of the rat that was stress vulnerable.”

Turns out becoming more vulnerable from this gut bacteria that caused the stress created another problem in the animals— how they coped with stress.

Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania explained, “Animals that are more passive in coping with stress show more vulnerability because they exhibit behaviors that are more hopeless depressive-type state.”

(Read Full Interview)

Scientists say stress changes the gut microbiome and increases inflammation in the brain. There’s a growing body of evidence that brain inflammation is associated with depression. So, what do the findings mean for humans? Researchers believe future studies will show that altering gut bacteria, possibly with probiotics, might pave the way for treating psychiatric disorders, including depression. Research, from bench to bedside that could someday make a big difference in mental health.

Probiotics are live bacteria that help restore the balance of microbes in the gut and can be taken in a supplement form. Scientists nationwide have widely studied the impact of probiotics on digestive diseases like Crohn’s, but the Philadelphia team is among a few in the country considering the potential impact of probiotics and mental health.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in adulthood. Depression is now recognized as occurring in children and adolescents, although it sometimes presents with more prominent irritability than low mood. Many chronic mood and anxiety disorders in adults begin as high levels of anxiety in children. Depression, especially in midlife or older adults, can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are often worse when depression is present.


TREATMENT: Lifestyle changes to help with depression include exercise, nutrition, social support, sleep, and stress reduction. There are also many types of therapy available. Three of the more common methods used in depression treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. Often, a blended approach is used. Depression medication may be the most advertised treatment for depression, but that doesn’t mean it is the most effective. Depression is not just about a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medication may help relieve some of the symptoms of moderate and severe depression, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem, and it’s usually not a long-term solution. Antidepressant medications also come with side effects and safety concerns, and withdrawal can be very difficult.


NEW RESEARCH: Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania said, “In a context where there are stressful life events and we believe these inflammatory processes are important both in the gut and the brain, you want to reduce inflammatory processes. I think the best advice anyone could give is to maintain a healthy body – sleep, exercise, stress reduction techniques. There are a number of probiotics people like to take, and there’s anecdotal evidence that it works for some people, but there’s not a lot of experimental evidence. There is accumulating evidence that prebiotic substances that actually promote the growth of certain types of bacteria – those might be a better way to promote a healthy gut.”

(Source: Seema Bhatnagar, PhD)


John Ascenzi, PR


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology

Read the entire Q&A