Mental Health and the Microbiome

It’s no secret that bacteria have pulled a complete one-eighty when it comes to public relations. Not long ago, the word “bacteria” was pretty much universally feared. Of course, we still have a modern understanding of the existence of good and bad microbes and we all know that it is important to be clean and careful. However, “bacteria” is no longer a dirty word the way it used to be.

In fact, there are now an enormous number of yogurts, kefirs, cheeses, and other foods whose makers actively boast about their probiotic content. How did bacteria suddenly become so hip? Simple: an evolution in our understanding of how bacteria affect the body. That understanding continues evolving to this day, and it appears that the impact of the bacteria inside of us is perhaps even more far-reaching than previously imagined. Recent research has even found a compelling possible link between the microbiome and mental health.

For example, in one study, a number of men ingested large quantities of healthy bacteria. When interviewed four weeks later, these men reported a decrease in stress and an improvement in memory. In another instance, scientists managed to turn timid mice bold and shy mice social simply by altering the composition of their bacterial ecosystems. In yet another study, mice were given bacterial samples from depressed humans--and began to exhibit signs of depression themselves.

These examples--all taken from an article published in Sciencenews.org--suggest that our mental health could possibly be affected by our microbial health. While more research is needed to determine cause versus correlation, it is interesting to think about, knowing that we have some level of control over our microbial health and none of us are slaves to the microbiome we currently host.

To learn more about recent developments in the ongoing study of the human microbiome and way beyond, visit the CosmosID website or check out our blog.