Gut bacteria could be used to treat a range of mental disorders, a new study has suggested.

Past studies have confirmed that gut microbiome has the potential to treat serious illnesses, such as stroke. Now, researchers posit that it can also be used to cure several neurological conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety.

With the support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers John Bienenstock and Paul Forsythe from The Brain-Body Institute at McMaster University in Canada are looking at the effects of intestinal bacteria on human brain and regulation of mood.

Gut microbiome plays a major role in human biology from food processing to immune system regulation and even transmission of brain signals that regulate behavior and mood.

Bienenstock and Forsythe, in their study, confirmed that gut bacteria have an effect on behavior and misdemeanor.

To test their hypothesis, they studied mice using a "social defeat" situation, wherein the researchers exposed the smaller mice to larger and more aggressive ones. Some of the smaller mice showed increased stress, loss of appetite, and less social interaction. Fecal sample analysis showed that these stressed mice have an imbalance gut microbiome compared with the calm ones.

"There was less diversity in the types of bacteria present," said Forsythe. "The less diversity, the greater disruption to the body."

Control of mood and behavior was achieved when they gave the stressed mice similar probiotics, which the calm mice have had. Examination of mice brain chemistry through magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) showed the presence of specific brain biochemical markers during stressful situations and while the mice were on probiotics.

The stress biomarkers, the researchers concluded, could be used to identify if someone is at risk or suffering from PTSD. Identifying these biomarkers would allow physicians to prevent or treat the disorder.

The ONR is making the study a top priority as they anticipate a surge in psychological problems with warfighters.

Warfighters are continually subjected to physical and mental trauma due to sleep deprivation, change in diet, and interrupted circadian rhythms. ONR's Warfighter Performance Department program officer Linda Chrisey said the study is of great benefit to U.S. warfighters as well as to those who are most susceptible to mental disorders, particularly PTSD.

ONR is also working to develop a synthetic biology that would improve the gut microbiome by re-engineering microbes to improve physical performance and overall health.

The study was published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry on April 25.

Photo: ZEISS Microscopy | Flickr

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