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How depression might be related to your gut

PHILADELPHIA – 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 between 30% and 60% 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.

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.

“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,” said Jiah Pearson-Leary, a research associate at Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia.

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

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

Scientists said 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.