Irish scientists have discovered that there may be an unexpected link between mental health and the bacteria in your bowels.
What you may not want to think about is that inside the human bowels there are more than 1,000 species of bacteria happily working breaking down your food. It is now thought that as well as being crucial to the digestive system, these bacteria are also releasing various chemicals that can affect a person’s mood.
The combination of other organisms living in the body are known as microbiota, and can vary greatly from person to person.
A study was carried out at UCC to investigate this further. It was overseen by the College’s ethics authority.
A group of rats had there bowel microbiota cleared using antibiotics. They then were given a faecal transplant from a human with clinical depression.
The rats began showing signs of depression themselves, such as loss of weight, fatigue and anxiety. The tests are ongoing but the preliminary results indicate that microbiota has a direct effect on mental health.
Faecal transplants are already used in medicine to combat a patient’s natural resistance to antibiotics. It is possible that in the future they will also be possible treatment for people suffering from depression.
Prof Ted Dinan, one of the leaders of the experiment, said: “There are fundamental differences in the microbiota of depressed and non-depressed people.”
The other thing to consider is that faecal transplants could also transfer diseases from one person to another. All samples need to be screened and tested before they are safe to use.