Although antibiotics are useful in eradicating pathogens, and have saved countless lives, researchers are now finding that their usage may come with some harmful side effects. Known to affect our gut bacteria, more and more evidence is demonstrating that such an interaction may lead to mental health issues.
A study looking at medical records by Johns Hopkins and Sheppard Pratt Health System found that those hospitalized for mania were likely to be on antibiotics to treat an infection than others without mental disorders. Although this correlation may not necessarily lead to a causation, the researchers noted that it nevertheless suggests that usage of antibiotics may change the body’s gut bacteria and thus contribute to behavioral changes in some with mental health disorders.
According to John Hopkins neurovirologist Rober Yolken, “More research is needed, but ours suggests that if we can prevent infections and minimize antibiotic treatment in people with mental illness, then we might be able to prevent the occurrence of manic episodes...This means we should focus on good-quality health care and infection prevention methods for this susceptible population, and pay extra attention to such things as flu shots, safe sex practices and urinary tract infections in female patients (McMains: 2019).”
But how does poor gut health lead to poor mental health? Although its exact workings are unknown, research suggests that the gut microbiome sends signals to the brain that modulates our moods and, perhaps, how likely we are to experience a mental illness (Bear: 2019).
From looking at medical records and feces from over 1000 people in the Flemish Gut Flora Project, researchers have found that people with depression tend to have lower than average levels of bacteria known as Coproccus and Dialister, whereas those with a high mental quality of life more commonly have higher quantities of bacteria Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus (Sample: 2019).
Although it is unclear whether the presence of certain gut bacteria leads to mental health issues or vice versa, Jeroen Raes of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology nevertheless said, “We studied whether gut bacteria in general would have a means to talk to the nervous system, by analysing their DNA. We found that many can produce neurotransmitters or precursors for substances like dopamine and serotonin (linked to depression and mood regulation).”
McMains, Vanessa: Hopkins Medicine
Bear, Christine: Science Alert
Sample, Ian: The Guardian