Sunday June 16, 2019

Microbes May Be Stirring Up Anxiety And Depression In Obese People

To test the theory, Kahn and colleagues fed mice a high-fat diet and studied their behavior as the animals became obese

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Microbes May Be Stirring Up Anxiety And Depression In Obese People
Microbes May Be Stirring Up Anxiety And Depression In Obese People, Pixabay

Microbes may be helping stir up anxiety and depression in obese people, if results from a new mouse study hold true in humans.

The authors link the effects to how the brain responds to insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar levels in the blood.

The research raises questions about whether changing gut microbes, or changing diet, could help treat these conditions.

Mood, microbes and metabolism

Obesity triggers changes in metabolism — for example, making liver, muscle, fat and other tissues less responsive to insulin. Left untreated, these changes can lead to diabetes.

Obese people also have higher rates of anxiety and depression.

“One could say, ‘Maybe that’s just because they’re obese,’ ” said Harvard Medical School diabetes researcher Ronald Kahn, “but others could say, ‘Maybe there’s a metabolic link.’ ”

“And we asked the question, ‘Maybe the metabolic link is at least partly fueled by the microbiome,’ ” the community of microbes living in a person’s gut, he added.

Those microbes change with diet, and Kahn said different microbes might respond differently to the foods we eat.

To test the theory, Kahn and colleagues fed mice a high-fat diet and studied their behavior as the animals became obese.

They used common tests to gauge anxious and depressed behavior in rodents — for example, how much time the animals spent hiding in a dark box versus exploring a brightly lit area. The more anxious the mouse, the less time it will spend in the light.

Obese mice spent about 25 percent less time in the light than animals on a normal diet, and they scored higher on the other anxiety and depression tests, too.

obesity
obesity, Pixabay

Return to normal

But those differences disappeared when obese mice were given antibiotics, even though their weight didn’t change much.

“That really says there’s probably something about the microbiome,” Kahn said.

The researchers then tested how the animals’ microbiomes affected mice raised in a sterile environment with no microbes of their own.

Bacteria from obese rodents made these germ-free mice more anxious than microbes from normal mice.

But when germ-free mice got microbes from obese animals that had been given antibiotics, they behaved like normal mice.

To see what parts of the brain might be responsible for the effects, the researchers focused on two regions involved in metabolism and responses to rewards. They found these regions were less responsive to insulin in the obese mice compared with normal-weight animals.

Again, antibiotics returned those responses to normal.

The research appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

“It was actually quite a surprise,” Kahn said. “Even though we had seen some effects on metabolism in the rest of the body, I was very surprised how dramatic and how clear the effects were also on the brain and on behavior.”

Into the unknown

That doesn’t mean antibiotics are the cure for depression, Kahn warned. The drugs kill good and bad microbes indiscriminately, and taking the medication unnecessarily can contribute to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

Also, what happens in mice does not necessarily happen in humans, he added, or it may happen for only some people. So far, there is not much evidence that probiotics help anxious people.

scale
scale, Pixabay

“The difficulty is, both of these things — depression and obesity — are complicated things that have multiple, multiple factors influencing them,” said mental health researcher Gregory Simon at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, who was not part of the study.

Microbes are likely just one factor, along with environment, genetics, social influences and more, Simon added.

But Kahn said his group’s research raised interesting questions about how food affects our behavior.

“I think now we can get some idea that there are a lot of things that are being metabolized by gut bacteria that could affect brain function,” he said.

And he said there might be ways to change brain function by changing those bacteria, by eating helpful microbes or by eating foods that sustain them.

Also read: Two New Ways To Prevent Cholera: Microbes Fighting Microbes

He and his colleagues are working to figure out exactly which of the hundreds of species of gut bacteria are responsible. At the moment, it’s a mystery. (VOA)

Next Story

Study: Lack of Sleep Associated with Wide Range of Mental Health Issues in Students, Athletes

Published in the journal Sleep, the study analysis involved 110,496 students, out of which 8,462 were athletes

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Sleep, Mental Health, Students
Insufficient sleep is associated with a wide range of mental health issues. Pixabay

Insufficient sleep is associated with a wide range of mental health issues such as anxiety, self-harm and suicide ideation among students and athletes, according to a study. Published in the journal Sleep, the study analysis involved 110,496 students, out of which 8,462 were athletes.

“It was really surprising to see how strongly insufficient sleep was associated with a wide variety of mental health symptoms among college students,” said lead author Thea Ramsey from the University of Arizona in the US.

With every additional night of insufficient sleep, the risk of experiencing mental health symptoms increased on average by more than 20 per cent.

insufficient sleep, mental health issues
Published in the journal Sleep, the study analysis involved 110,496 students, out of which 8,462 were athletes. Pixabay

ALSO READ: Good Sleep Helps in Reducing Desire for Sweet, Salty Foods

The risk also increased by 21 per cent for depressed mood, 24 per cent for hopelessness, 24 per cent for anger, 25 per cent for anxiety, 25 per cent for desire to self-harm, 28 per cent for functional problems and 28 per cent for suicide ideation.

“The fact that sleep health was so strongly related to mental health is important since the majority of college students don’t get the recommended amount of sleep needed for optimal health and functioning,” said Michael Grander from the varsity. (IANS)