Microbes that set up home in the gut may have an impact on mental health، according to a major study into wellbeing and the bacteria that live inside us.
Researchers in Belgium found that people with depression had consistently low levels of bacteria known as Coprococcus and Dialister whether they took antidepressants or not.
If the preliminary finding stands up to further scrutiny، it could pave the way for new treatments for mental health disorders based on probiotics that boost levels of “good” bacteria in the intestines.
Jeroen Raes of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven drew on medical tests and GP records to look for links between depression، quality of life and microbes lurking in the faeces of more than 1،000 people enrolled in the Flemish Gut Flora Project.
Sign up for Lab Notes - the Guardian's weekly science update He found that two kinds of bugs، namely Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus، were both more common in people who claimed to enjoy a high mental quality of life. Meanwhile، those with depression had lower than average levels of Coprococcus and Dialister.
The study reported in Nature Microbiology does not prove that gut microbes affect mental health. It is possible that the effect works the other way around، with a person’s mental health having an impact on the bugs that thrive inside them. But in follow-up experiments، Raes and his team found evidence that gut microbes can at least talk to the human nervous system by producing neurotransmitters that are crucial for good mental health.