Mental health diseases like depression and anxiety have plagued humans presumably since we achieved sentience, and lately it seems like the mental health crisis in America is getting worse and worse. Everyone blames this rise on something different; social media, the pandemic, tumultuous politics, or just the dramatics of younger generations. No matter where the blame is placed, statistics show that the rise in the number of diagnoses is real. Almost all mental health diseases show growth, but anxiety and depression have skyrocketed (ADAA). Even before the COVID 19 pandemic, anxiety was at an all time high, as shown in the figure below.
Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, with more diagnoses and higher disability ratings (Spitchak, 2020). Mental health disorders like this have been linked to inflammation in the gut, as the immune system is activated by stress (Spitchak, 2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and anxiety-reducing medications like benzodiazepines are the current gold standard for managing long-term chronic stress and anxiety, as well as short-term needs like panic or anxiety attacks (Ballenger, 2000). These methods do help, but some people have drug-resistant depression, and others simply prefer a greater variety of options to manage their symptoms. Getting outside more has long been accepted as a mental health boost, both from the calming peaceful environment to the vitamin D exposure, to the clean air, and even the soil microbes (Asprey, 2021). A less conventional option than a simple walk may exist and appears to be emerging after 16 plus years of research by Chris Lowry, who has been working with the soil bacterium M. vaccae since the early 2000s.
When studying mental illness, the brain has long been the focal organ of interest. Psychiatry and neurobiology examine communication from the brain and how its chemical imbalance produces central nervous system (CNS) disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, microbiology presents a new avenue of inquiry that is looking from the opposite direction: how is communication to the brain affecting mental health? This is a provocative question under investigation through recent studies of the microbiota of our gut.Continue reading “Does your gut control your brain?”