Scientists studying how the microbiome affects our mood aim to develop gut microbiome-modulating formulations to treat depression and other brain diseases.
Recent work from Katya Gavrish suggests that the microbiome not only affects our mood but also how we think, feel, and behave. Based on these findings, the Massachusetts-based company Holobiome uses queuine – a vitamin-like molecule produced by certain gut microbes – to improve mental well-being critical for aging well .
Longevity.Technology: It is now clear that we share our body with tens of trillions of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, archaea and fungi, most of which reside in our gut – commonly referred to as the gut microbiome. In fact, the microbes living in our bodies outnumber our body’s own cells, with the gut microbiome weighing roughly 2 kilograms! Understanding the role these microscopic organisms play in our overall heath and mental well-being, as well as how they contribute to the aging process, is a Longevity no-brainer.
It is also becoming increasingly evident that these microorganisms are not necessarily harmful to humans; in fact, they are critical for maintaining physical and mental health, as well as regulating aging. The importance of the microbiome in human health is not so surprising considering that gut microbes collectively express approximately 20 million genes – 100 times more than our body’s own cells. The genes encoded by the gut microbiota extensively interact with our genes, shaping our body’s phenotypic characteristics and regulating the development of various diseases, including cancer and metabolic disorders.
“The gut – and this nervous system within it – can communicate with the brain in a whole host of different ways.”
Although the gut microbiota has long been known to regulate the inflammatory status of the gut, exciting new evidence suggests that it can also affect brain inflammation and blood-brain barrier function. Consequently, gut bacteria affect our psychological state and regulate schizophrenia, autism, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression .
“We’re beginning to understand that there’s a very strong link between our gut and our brain,” says Dr John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert from the University College Cork . “The gut – and this nervous system within it – can communicate with the brain in a whole host of different ways. It’s this communication that’s really important to how we feel, if you get what I’m saying. It’s a two-way street. Every student will know that when they’re stressed, it will have a direct effect on their gut.”
Preliminary studies have shown that nutritional interventions and an Omega-3-rich diet may be useful in treating depression. A recent epidemiological study involving more than 1000 participants showed a link between two bacterial species and depression . Additionally, a team led by Dr John Cryan has shown that many species of the gut microbiome promote the production of serotonin – the chemical that makes us feel good – representing a key link between gut microbes and mental well-being . Dr John Cryan first used the term “psychobiome” to describe microbe-based treatments for mental conditions, such as Holobiome’s queuine.
Although many probiotics supplements exist and the microbiome-based wellness market is rapidly expanding, sufficient evidence for their benefits in well-designed human studies is lacking.
The discovery of the effects of the gut microbiome on mental health has opened an exciting new research avenue, merging microbiology, immunology, and psychology. Although many probiotics supplements exist and the microbiome-based wellness market is rapidly expanding, sufficient evidence for their benefits in well-designed human studies is lacking.
Given the complexity of our gut microbiome and the fact that its composition varies among individuals, a better understanding of how exactly these microorganisms affect the brain is required to harness the gut microbiome to treat mental conditions, improve wellness and possibly extend healthspan.