Is the gut microbiome the brain regulator in mental illness?
Doctors at Eastern Washington University and Dartmouth College have released a study that ties obesity and an altered gut environment with compromised brain function, leading to the development of mental illness. This study has important implications in the management of mental illness through the regulation of diet, weight control, and maintaining a healthy gut environment.
The doctors noted:
- An increasing number of different gut microbial species are now postulated to regulate brain function in health and disease.
- The westernized diet is hypothesized to be the cause of the current obesity levels in many countries, a major socio-economical health problem.
- Experimental and epidemiological evidence suggest that the gut microbiota is responsible for significant immunologic, neuronal, and endocrine changes that lead to obesity.
- Gut microbiota, and changes associated with diet, affect the gut-brain axis and may possibly contribute to the development of mental illness.1
A dangerous catch-22
The study above connects obesity and altered gut environment as a possible cause of impacted brain function and mental illness. Now researchers say the drugs prescribed to fight mental illness cause obesity and altered gut and brain function.
Researchers at the University of Iowa have shown that drug-induced changes to the gut microbiome can cause obesity by reducing the resting metabolic rate – the calories burned while sleeping or resting.
The findings, published in the journal eBiomedicine highlight the critical role of gut microbes in energy balance and suggest that unhealthy microbiome shifts can lead to weight gain and obesity by altering resting metabolism.
The researchers focused on the effects of risperidone, an antipsychotic drug that causes significant weight gain in patients.
Risperidone is used to treat various psychiatric disorders in adults and children including:
- bipolar disorder, and
- and prescribing rates for children have increased nearly eight-fold over the last two decades.
In an earlier study, the same researchers compared patients taking risperidone long-term to patients who were not on the drug. They found that weight gain was correlated with a significant shift in the composition of the patients’ gut microbiomes
The results may suggest that manipulating resting metabolic rate, specifically by targeting the gut microbiome, could represent a new approach to treating obesity.2
Alternatively, preventing unhealthy changes to the microbiome may prove beneficial for patients undergoing risperidone treatment.
Recently a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University presented their findings that friendly bacteria produce a therapeutic compound in the gut which inhibits weight gain, insulin resistance and other adverse effects of a high-fat diet in mice and that it may be possible to manipulate the bacterial residents of the gut – the gut microbiota — to treat obesity and other chronic diseases.3
In recent research, doctors also found that certain probiotics could help women lose weight and keep it off. Women consuming probiotics lost twice as much weight over the 24-week period of the study.4
In a report from earlier this year (2016) doctors recognize the difficulty in managing what they call a “healthy microbiota” and suggest to clinicians the following beneficial aspects can be found in patients despite age:
- Reductions in weight gain and, in particular, fat tissue mass at different locations
- Anti-inflammatory effects-including regulation of expression of lipogenic and lipolytic genes in the liver, (cholesterol)
- Reduction in liver steatosis (fatty liver),
- Improvement of blood lipid profile and glucose tolerance,
- Decreased endotoxemia (blood toxins)
The doctors also issue a warning that running to the store for probiotics may not be the answer and that medical advise should be sought:
- “The number of human studies focused on probiotic administration for obesity management is still very scarce, and it is too soon to judge their potential efficacy, especially when considering the fact that the actions of probiotics are always strain specific and the individual response varies according to intrinsic factors, the overall composition of diet, and their interactions.”5
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1 Ochoa-Repáraz J, Kasper LH. The Second Brain: Is the Gut Microbiota a Link Between Obesity and Central Nervous System Disorders? Curr Obes Rep. 2016 Mar;5(1):51-64.
3. Certain probiotics could help women lose weight. January 28, 2014
4. Yu RQ, Yuan JL, Ma LY, Qin QX, Wu XY. Probiotics improve obesity-associated dyslipidemia and insulin resistance in high-fat diet-fed rats. Zhongguo Dang Dai Er Ke Za Zhi. 2013 Dec;15(12):1123-7.
5. Nova E, Pérez de Heredia F, Gómez-Martínez S, Marcos A. The Role of Probiotics on the Microbiota: Effect on Obesity. Nutr Clin Pract. 2016 Feb 11. pii: 0884533615620350. [Epub ahead of print] Review.