Significant link found between peptic ulcers, gut function, and depression

A recent study of peptic ulcer disease and the contributing genetic factors confirms a connection between individuals suffering from stomach ulcers and those with depression. The research from the University of Queensland is the largest global study of its kind. 

Peptic ulcers affect five to ten percent of individuals at some time within their lifespan. Lead study researchers anticipate these study findings will support a more holistic approach to treating peptic ulcers. Additionally, the research points to an interaction between the brain and the gut. This evidence may point to a need for an interdisciplinary approach to the prevention and treatment of this common gastrointestinal ailment.

Availability of a Vast Study Group

Sad, depressed woman crying
Study findings could be solid evidence for continuing research of interdisciplinary treatments of individuals with stomach ulcers who also suffer from depression. (Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels)

A significant advantage for researchers contributing to this study is the vast access to health data from people all across Europe. The study looks into the health and wellness records of 456,327 individuals from the UK Biobank. 

“Access to vast health and genomic data sets allows researchers to advance understanding of many complex diseases and traits […] Resources such as the UK Biobank have made it possible to now study the genetic contribution to common diseases, such as peptic ulcer disease, and understand the risks more fully,” explains Naomi Wray in a statement. Wray is a Professor from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at the University of Queensland. 

Correlating Research Findings from Past and Present

Research in the past links peptic ulcer disease mainly to stress. However, the understanding of this correlation shifts as new research by Austrian Nobel Prize recipients Barry Marshall and Robin Warren details a more significant link to the bacteria H. pylori and the development of peptic ulcers. 

In the research study by the University of Queensland, there are eight genetic variations that researchers classify in association with the risk of developing peptic ulcer disease. Six of these variations stem directly from a connection that potentially explains why some individuals are prone to developing infections from H. pylori bacteria. This higher risk of bacterial infection also puts these individuals at a higher risk of developing peptic ulcers.

Treatments of existing peptic ulcers focus on a gene that links to one of these identified genetic variants. Thus pin-pointing these genes in association with the identified variant may open a door for developing new treatments and therapies in the future. 

Future Benefits

The goal of researchers in the study is to have the ability to provide risk scores and analysis for patients in the future. These scores based on genetic predisposition to developing peptic ulcers could aid in preventing the disease. Along with that, the study findings prove a definitive link between brain and gut function and the connection between depression and peptic ulcers, which could be solid evidence for continuing research of interdisciplinary treatments of individuals with stomach ulcers who also suffer from depression.

“As a medical student, I noticed how some patients’ gastrointestinal symptoms improved after psychotherapy or psychiatry treatment,” says co-author Dr. Yeda Wu, also of IMB. “This study linking major depression with an increased risk of gastrointestinal disorders also explains the co-morbidity of the conditions.”

This study is published in Nature Communications.

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