Anxiety disorders affect around 40 million adults in the United States. While they are treatable, only about 37% of those who suffer from anxiety receive treatment. With anxiety on the rise, researchers have been looking deeper into what causes the mental health disorder. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, gut bacteria may play a major role in the development of anxiety.
The Gut-Brain Connection
The article details the gut-brain connection and its role in mental health. Researchers explained that the gut sends signals to the brain and visa-versa. Over 90% of the neurochemical responsible for stablizing mood – serotonin – is produced in the gut. Stomach or intestinal distress can interfere with gut-brain signaling. If the interference is severe, stomach or intestinal stress can “be the cause or the product” or anxiety, depression or stress.
While the gut-brain connection isn’t a new discovery, the role it plays in mental health it. Researchers at the University of Cork in Ireland found that gene regulators or genes that encode proteins play a fundamental role in anxiety illnesses. They are directly impacted by bacterial levels in the gut.
In the study, researchers injected a gene regulator known as microRNA into mice. The miRNA caused a high level of anxiety in the mice that lacked proper gut bacteria. When researchers injected miRNA into mice with proper gut bacteria, the gene regulator eased previous anxiety symptoms.
The findings suggest that for appropriate regulation of miRNA, a healthy balance of gut bacteria is needed. Lead author of the study Dr. Gerald Clark explained, “This (study) is important because these miRNAs may affect (processes) fundamental to the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex (PFC).”
The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions. The PFC is responsible for functions such as planning, decision-making and social behavior. This research could help doctors and scientists figure out a new form of treatment for people suffering with anxiety – treatment that specifically targets the gut, instead of the brain.