A healthy microbiome could be key to warding off depression brought on from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study. Researchers from several universities and health centers published a paper sharing the theory that emotional wellbeing could be linked to the human gut.
COVID and Depression
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in mental health issues due to isolation, stress, and job loss. In particular, depression rates skyrocketed during the initial phases of the pandemic. In the United States alone, there was an 18.6 percent increase in antidepressant prescriptions and a startling 34.1 percent increase in anti-anxiety medications, all during the first month of the pandemic.
“During such a short period of time, this steep rise hints at the magnitude of COVID-19’s immediate and widespread effect on mental health,” says Dr. Mahmoud A. Ghannoum in a statement. Ghannoum is director of the Center for Medical Mycology at UH and a professor of dermatology and pathology at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
A Holistic Approach
“The impact of the human gut microbiome on emotional health is a newly emerging field,” says Dr. Ghannoum. “While more research needs to be conducted, the current evidence is extremely promising and suggests at least part of the answer to understanding depression in more depth may lie within the microbiome.” The human microbiome is composed of various microbes including fungi, bacteria, and viruses that live primarily in the human gut.
New evidence indicates the microbiome can have a direct impact on our brain and emotions. The human brain and gut microbiome communicate with each other using neural and hormonal pathways. This is why a holistic approach to depression that includes the health of the human gut microbiome could be effective, say scientists.
“Despite the toll that depression has on both individuals and society, understanding and effectively treating depressive disorders is difficult,” says Dr. Ghannoum. “Current research addressing the diagnosis and treatment of depression and mood disorders is ongoing, but needs more time to develop the complexities involved in how to treat them.”
The Gut-Brain Link
More research now points to the gut-brain link, which could be a new and more efficient way to manage depression disorders. “It is clear that the gut microbiome’s makeup in individuals with depressive disorders is disrupted and lacks the appropriate levels of beneficial microorganisms,” says Dr. Ghannoum. “We believe that encouraging the growth of such beneficial microorganisms and rebalancing the gut microbiome in individuals may be a promising step toward helping individuals ease their depression via the gut-brain axis.”
The study proposes a dynamic approach to depression management that includes replenishing the gut microbiome by eating more fruits, vegetables, and probiotics. Getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and regular exercise are also important for depression prevention. “Not only should probiotic consumption restore the gut balance, it may also decrease the likelihood of colonization of the gut by opportunistic pathogens, as reported in many studies that analyzed the gut microbiome in COVID-19 infected patients,” say scientists.
Find this study in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.