Recent research appears to show a possible link between the gut microbiome and depression, shining a light on the importance of gut health
There is no definitive way to diagnose depression, such as a blood test similar to that for high cholesterol or diabetes. However, recent research appears to show a possible link between the gut microbiome and depression.
Patients suffering from depression may have a distinctive gut biome make-up that could serve as a marker for their condition.
Pandemics and depression are a gut punch
The current number of adults in the United States reporting symptoms of depression soared dramatically this year.
A recent article published in JAMA Network Open found that the number of adults reporting symptoms of depression tripled, going from approximately 8.5% beforehand to almost 28%.1
This means that more than one in four American adults is currently experiencing one or more symptoms of depression.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported similar findings, showing that symptoms of anxiety and depression were significantly higher from April-June of this year, as compared to the same time period last year.2 Furthermore, more than 40 % of adults surveyed reported some type of adverse mental or behavioral health symptom related to the pandemic, including those related to PTSD, substance abuse, or suicidal ideations.2
Gut microbiome and depression links
Research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry reported results from studying the human gut microbiome and depression to determine if those of individuals with depression differed from healthy subjects.3
Researchers used stool samples of 40 subjects (20 with depression and 20 without) and a machine-learning process to determine a unique gut biome associated with subjects who suffered from depression. They speculated that the specific gut biome associated with depression may be linked to a whole-body inflammatory process that is often seen with bad gut bacteria.3
A 2020 review article in Neurobiology of Disease summed up the state of current research on the potential link between gut biome and depression, stating that “new discoveries in the gut microbiome, when integrated into a holistic perspective, hold great promise for the future of positive mental health.”4
It further elaborated on the possible link between gut microbiome and depression, noting that the immune, endocrine, and central nervous systems may also play important roles in this process.
Right now, these findings are more diagnostic than a basis for treatment. Nevertheless, it is not too far off the mark to consider suggesting your patients get more exercise and change to a diet that is high in fiber as a means of improving their gut biome and hopefully improving depression symptoms.
- Ettman CK, Abdalla SM, Cohen GH, et al. Prevalence of depression symptoms in US adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(9):e2019686.
- Czeisler MÉ, Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, June 24-30, 2020. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69:1049-1057.
- Stevens BR, Roesch L, Thiago P, et al. Depression phenotype identified by using single nucleotide exact amplicon sequence variants of the human gut microbiome. Molecular Psychiatry. 2020 Jan 27. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 31988436.
- Flux MC, Lowry CA. Finding intestinal fortitude: Integrating the microbiome into a holistic view of depression mechanisms, treatment, and resilience. Neurobiology of Disease. 2020 Feb;135:104578.