What if you could take a shot or a pill containing a healthy bacteria – probiotic – that could wipe out stress-induced anxiety and depression?
It may not be very long before we can. Matthew Frank, a lead researchers at Colorado University (CU) Boulder wrote about a probiotic administered to lab rats to gauge “long-lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain:”
“We found that in rodents this particular bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, actually shifts the environment in the brain toward an anti-inflammatory state.”
This finding is a huge breakthrough for treating people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or even the tension created by “the daily grind” many of us call everyday life.
The underlying thinking behind this research is that stress actually causes inflammation in the brain. MedicineNet.com says inflammation is:
“A localized reaction that produces redness, warmth, swelling, and pain as a result of infection, irritation, or injury. Inflammation can be external or internal.”
Medical science is determining that inflammation is at the root of many diseases and health disorders. You can imagine that brain inflammation is not good. Yet, stress brings on this condition – and who among us enjoys complete calm serenity?
The impact of brain inflammation on mood-influencing neurotransmitters like norepinephrine or dopamine are thought to lead to the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Any region of the brain that suffers from illness, surgery, or trauma can become sensitized to future triggers (stressors) which produce another inflammatory attack in the brain that leads to more depression and anxiety.
CU Boulder has shown that the friendly bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae is able to combat the sensitizing effects produced by previous incidents of stress and cerebral inflammation. It created “a lasting stress-resilient phenotype in the brain.”
Senior author for the CU Boulder study Christopher Lowry, an associate professor in integrative physiology, has focused his career on cognitive function, anxiety, and fear. He identified the physiological link between the stress-busting probiotic and human emotional state (mood):
“These beneficial microbes, or signals derived from these microbes, somehow make their way to the hippocampus, inducing an anti-inflammatory state.”
After its discovery during the 1990s “on the shores of Lake Kyoga in Uganda,” immunologists realized that the probiotic improved mood in lung cancer patients – but it did not prolong their lives.
This finding led to a closer look at M. vaccae as a warrior against stress and its negative side-effects.
Not only could this stress-relieving therapy be used after a diagnosis, it could be used pro-actively – for example, before soldiers go into battle.
Other researchers are also looking into the human microbiome – bacteria that live in various parts of the body (like the intestine, skin, and lungs). Did you know that there are almost 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells in the body? Seems incredible, doesn’t it?
Most bacteria inside the body reside in the intestinal tract, helping us digest food, make certain vitamins (e.g., vitamin K), and regulate the immune system. You may have heard of probiotic treatments and substances taken to boost stomach health.
A new theory is examining the link between the “brain-gut axis,” testing to see if intestinal bacterial affect neuropsychiatric conditions – like anxiety and depression.
Along this line of thinking, a review of ten different studies “assessing the effects of probiotics, on symptoms of depression in humans” published in the Annals of General Psychiatry concluded:
“The evidence for probiotics alleviating depressive symptoms is compelling but additional double-blind randomized control trials in clinical populations are warranted to further assess efficacy.”
Keep your eye on the CU Boulder research team. They may just be on the verge of a major breakthrough in treating chronic depression, heightened levels of anxiety, and PTSD with a friendly little bacterium.