In a tremendously exciting finding, our researchers have found that they can reverse the symptoms of depression in mice just by feeding them Lactobacillus, the bacteria found in yogurt with living cultures. Better yet, they have reason to believe that their findings will hold true in people as well.
“The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side effects when we can just play with the microbiome,” lead researcher Alban Gaultier, PhD, told me. “It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health – and your mood.”
I suspect there will be a lot of interest in Dr. Gaultier’s discovery. There has been much discussion of the role of the gut microbiome – the microscopic bacteria living within us – in human health, and now Dr. Gaultier and his team have found a direct link between a particular type of bacteria in the gut and both depression and anxiety, at least in mice. Plus, the finding ties in with the widespread public interest in probiotics. And the discovery highlights the effects of chronic mild stress on health, a tremendous concern in this hectic modern age.
I thought you’d enjoy hearing directly from Dr. Gaultier. Here is a video interview with him that I and videographer extraordinaire Harry Moxley put together:
I want this blog to go into a little more depth than you might get elsewhere. Here, Dr. Gaultier gives more detail about the science:
Now let’s tackle a few questions I expect folks will have.
Is it only one particular strain of Lactobacillus that reverses depression symptoms in mice?
The researchers have looked at only one, L. reuteri, but they believe that several strains with similar properties could work. More research needs to be done, however.
How do you know a mouse is depressed? They can’t tell you how they feel.
That’s why the researchers refer to “depression symptoms” or “despair behavior,” rather than saying the mice are depressed. The primary symptom is lethargy, basically. A normal mouse, when placed in water, will want to climb out. A mouse exhibiting despair behavior will simply give up and bob around until you take him back out. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
If eating Lactobacillus can ward off depression symptoms, how is it that some people who already eat yogurt with live cultures still suffer from depression?
Here’s the answer straight from Dr. Gaultier: “There are many mechanisms involved in driving depression. We have found one that is clearly important, but there are also other contributors to this complex condition.”
So while eating yogurt may not be able to cure depression all by itself, understanding the important role of the gut microbiome in mental well-being is clearly a big step in the right direction. As Dr. Gaultier noted, it would indeed be wonderful to manipulate our diets to improve both our health and our moods.
EDIT: I’ve done more posts on this discovery. Click the “Alban Gaultier” tag below to read more.