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Mental health

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A reduction in specific gut bacteria is linked to lower quality of life and incidents of depression. The study – one of the most compelling in illustrating the influence the gut microbiota has on mental health – included 1,063 participants enrolled in Belgium’s Flemish Gut Flora Project. Using DNA sequencing to analyze fecal microbiota, researchers compared gut bacteria with participants’ incidence of depression and quality of life (self- and physician reported) and found that two families of bacteria; Coprococcus and Dialister, were significantly reduced in those with depression. There was also a direct relationship between quality of life and the gut microbiome’s ability to breakdown and synthesize the dopamine (a neurotransmitter) byproduct, 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid. Nature →Takeaway: While this study shows a strong link between the gut microbiome and mental health, it demonstrates only correlation, not cause. Next steps are for researchers to find out whether – and if so how – neurotransmitters and neuroactive compounds (serotonin,…

Those who use antidepressants are significantly more likely to experience severe gastrointestinal bleeding, and the risk is increased in those who take over-the-counter pain relievers (such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Coumadin, aspirin, and Plavix). The 2019 review study looked at selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), prescribed to 13% of Americans 12 years and older and the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. After a complete review of the literature, scientists found that those on SSRIs are 40% more likely to experience severe gastrointestinal bleeding and are at a higher risk of life threatening intracranial bleeding. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association →Takeaway: If you’re taking antidepressants and are wondering if you’re experiencing gastrointestinal bleeding, bright red blood in the stool or tarry stools are signs you can look for. If you experience either of these symptoms, contact you’re healthcare provider immediately. No matter how safe or harmless a medication seems, all…

A recent study unveils the likely cause behind seasonal depression, a condition that affects 1 in 5 people. Light-sensing cells in the retina that affect whether you feel happy or sad connect with your brain. When the retina cells detect shorter days, the cells send signals to the brain that can result in feelings of sadness or depression. In the study, mice with the light-sensing retina cells experienced depression in the presence of a shortened light cycle; when the cells were removed, the mice didn’t become depressed. Scientists who conducted the study say that their findings help to answer the decade long question about how light is linked to mood. Cell →Takeaway: If you suffer from seasonal depression, get outside during the day! Exposure to light can do wonders for your mood. Bundle up and go for a mid-afternoon walk or eat a meal outside.

The stress experienced during competitive social situations negatively affects the gut microbiome. The experiment was performed in Syrian hamsters, animals that compete to establish hierarchies of dominant and subordinate groups. The study analyzed gut bacteria before the hamsters met and after they had competed for hierarchical placement, then compared these samples to a control group of hamsters that lived in an already established group. In the study, even a single exposure to social stress altered the gut microbiota, significantly decreasing gut bacteria diversity and composition. Repeated exposure to stress resulted in greater negative impacts on the microbiome. There was no significant difference in alterations between winners and losers; social stress in both groups led to similar changes, although the specific bacteria impacted were different between the two groups. Interestingly, higher levels of some bacteria predicted whether an animal would become a winner or loser. Behavioral Brain Research →Takeaway: Researchers say that this supports…

Stress and autoimmune disease are closely linked. An extensive study spanning 30 years and including over 100,000 study subjects found that individuals diagnosed with stress-related disorders were also 30 to 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (including Crohn’s disease and celiac disease). Researchers also found that those patients diagnosed with PTSD and receiving antidepressant treatment soon after diagnosis were less likely to have subsequent autoimmune diagnoses when compared to those who did not receive treatment. JAMA →Takeaway: While this is an observational study and not one that confers a causal relationship between stress and autoimmunity, researchers state that it does illustrate a clear link between psychological stress and physical inflammation in the body. This study is a reminder that reducing stress is just as important as eating well and exercising. Spending time daily – even just 10 minutes – in meditation, prayer, or yoga has been proven to…

Relax! It may be just what the doctor ordered. While studies find that mind-body practices (yoga, meditation, etc.) that induce the relaxation response (RR) reduce blood pressure, the molecular pathways that lead to this association remain unknown. A recent study analyzed RR’s effects on gene pathways over an 8-week RR-based intervention in 58 patients diagnosed with hypertension. The intervention consisted of 20 minutes per day of diaphragmatic breathing, mantra repetition, and mindfulness meditation. Blood samples were taken for RNA analysis and results found that RR regulates 1771 genes in the following categories: immune regulatory pathways and metabolism, glucose metabolism, cardiovascular system development, and circadian rhythm. This is the first study to uncover the molecular mechanisms that support mind-body practices as an effective treatment for hypertension. The Journal of Alternative & Complimentary Medicine Society →Takeaway: While the science behind integrative treatment methods (nutrition, meditation, exercise, etc.) is oftentimes lacking, this study illustrates the profound…

Children aged 12 to 18 who have access to green spaces are significantly less likely to suffer from depression than those without access. The study followed 9,000 adolescents over a number of years and found that those with access were 11% less likely to suffer from high depressive symptoms. The study also looked at access to blue spaces (bodies of water) and did not find any significant difference between the two groups. Journal of Adolescent Health →Takeaway: Based on a 2017 study, approximately 13% of U.S. children, aged 12 to 17 suffer from depression symptoms. Surrounding your child with vegetation just might save his or her mental health.