Our Gut Bacteria May Play A Role In PTSD Development


Scientists already know how important our gut bacteria is for physical and mental well being.

Earlier research showed that microbes in our gastrointestinal tract, called the gut microbiome, influence brain function by producing neurotransmitters, immune-influencing molecules, and bacterial toxins.

Stressful thoughts and emotions can, in turn, alter our gut microbiome. These alterations may gradually damage the intestinal lining, allowing inflammatory toxins to enter our bloodstream. Inflammation is a suspected factor in the onset of mood disorders such as depression, and anxiety.

Now, investigators report that gut bacteria and inflammation may also be a factor in our susceptibility to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Gut Bacteria and PTSD

“Our study compared the gut microbiomes of individuals with PTSD to that of people who also experienced significant trauma, but did not develop PTSD,” said lead researcher, Dr. Stefanie Malan-Muller, a postdoctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University.

The researchers identified three bacteria - Actinobacteria, Verrucomicrobia, and Lentisphaerae - that were different in those with PTSD. They also found that individuals who had traumatic experiences in childhood had lower levels of two of the three bacteria: Actinobacteria and Verrucomicrobia.

This finding is significant since people with a history of childhood trauma are at greater risk for later PTSD development, and their gut microbiome changes might have occurred in response to an early traumatic event.

The increased inflammation and disrupted immune regulation associated with the depletion of these three bacteria alter brain functioning and behavior. "We therefore hypothesize that the low levels of those three bacteria may have resulted in immune dysregulation and heightened levels of inflammation in individuals with PTSD, which may have contributed to their disease symptoms," says Malan-Muller.

Gut Bacteria and Resilience

Whether the bacterial deficit is a causal factor for PTSD, or occurs following a trauma has not been determined. Even so, understanding our microbiome’s role in PTSD may lead to better treatments since gut bacteria can be altered with dietary interventions.

Our gut microbiome can be upgraded with prebiotics, probiotics, or a combination of the two, called synbiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible food substances, usually called fiber. Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that we get from fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, or by taking probiotic supplements.

Maybe some day our susceptibility to psychiatric disorders, such as depression and PTSD, will be lessened by dietary strategies that ensure our gut microbiome has thriving populations of beneficial bacteria.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: IBM Research

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