Bereavement Distresses Gut Health

Every day somebody loses a loved one. Bereavement is often accompanied by stress, health decline, less energy, problems in eating, an upset belly, and more. A recent piece in Time magazine suggests that grief affecting the gut microbiome may be the culprit. To start with, stress may activate the sympathetic nervous system to induce a fight or flight response. The response raises heart rate and blood pressure, as well as the levels of the hormone cortisol linked to the stress response. While the body is coping with stress, it does not focus on eating or digesting, which would impact the gut microbiome in a matter of days. An article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry emphasized that bereavement has significant health outcomes, as increased morbidity and gut microbiome changes are linked to health outcomes after bereavement. According to the research, chronic and ongoing stress can disturb the gut microbiome. However, the research field on bereavement and microbiome is still limited, as bereavement includes emotions ranging from grief to anger, sadness, and denial. These emotions may stimulate mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, which may further disrupt the gut microbiome. Hence, investigating the associations between emotional events and the gut microbiome is complicated. Yet, an article from the Raes Lab compared the gut microbiome to happiness and depression in a large population to link people who are depressed and who have a low quality of life to undermined gut microbiomes. A promising next step is to give people who are bereaved, depressed, or in grief beneficial probiotics to modulate gut health, overall health and mood. However, Dr. Raes underlines that probiotic intervention for gut and mental health is still taking its baby steps, and the evidence for beneficial probiotics for people with grief or depression is still limited. Meanwhile, on the flip side, mood altering mental interventions may modulate the gut microbiome of people in grief or depression to improve gut and overall health.

Barış Özdinç

Barış Özdinç analyzes microbiome research with his educational background in genetics and evolution. As a research analyst for CosmosID, he combines metagenomics and data analyses to identify microbial biomarkers in disease cohorts and evaluate microbiome research tools. His work involves curating microbiome data and creating interesting microbiome content for newsletters and blog posts. Barış Özdinç received his bachelor’s degree in genetics and master’s degree in biodiversity, evolution, and conservation from University College London (UCL). Currently, he lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where he lives with his cat, Delight, and mentors female students in their STEM career pursuits.