Adding good bacteria to the gut lifts mice out of depression

    9 March 2017

    ‘How YOGURT can treat depression,’ ran the headline at Mail Online. Similar stories popped up elsewhere. Most readers no doubt guessed this didn’t sound quite right.

    The study, published in Scientific Reports, was conducted on mice. It looked at the amount of lactobacillus, a probiotic, or ‘helpful bacteria’, in their gut. The probiotic is present in many yoghurts.

    It found that when lactobacillus levels were low, symptoms of depression were observed and levels of kynurenine, a metabolite in the blood linked to depression, were high.

    The study’s authors claim that the findings could, in the future, lead to the development of clinical non-drug mental health treatments.

    The study’s lead author, Alban Gaultier, said: ‘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. It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health — and your mood.’

    A study in humans published on Monday found that a combination of two probiotics, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, eased the symptoms of hay fever.

    Instant analysis
    This study looks at the role of a probiotic in ‘depressive-like behaviour’ or ‘despair behaviour’ in mice (not quite the same as human depression, because mice aren’t able to discuss their mood and symptoms).

    Unfortunately, all it can really tell us is that this is an avenue to be explored further. It would be a huge extrapolation to suggest that the data from this study would extend to human beings. Although it is interesting from a scientific point of view, and it may well prove in the future to have an application to humans, the study holds no clinical significance as yet.

    If I was a mouse, though, I would be really excited.
    Media score: 1/5