A recent study, published in Science Advances, have discovered an interesting connection between human gut bacteria and schizophrenia, which is a severe long-standing mental health disorder. The underlying molecular mechanism behind this still continues to elude scientists, adding to the growing body of evidence that the two may be linked.
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental condition which affects how an individual feel, thinks and behaves. People with this disorder may look like they have lost touch with reality. Though schizophrenia is not common like other mental ailments, the signs can be disabling.
Schizophrenia is a name which involves various psychological signs and behaviors, counting delusions, psychosis, and hallucinations. All of these occur in the brain. However, the current study proposes that the gut microbiome may, in fact, lead to some aspects of schizophrenia.
According to the international team of researchers, schizophrenia is a brain disease. But maybe this line of thinking needs to be re-examined and consider that maybe the gut has a vital role.
Clinical characteristics of recruited participants
The research team looked at the gut bacteria of 63 patients who were suffering from the disorder (both those taking medicine and those who weren’t) and 69 individuals from a healthy control group. This observation was done by sequencing genetic material from stool samples. There were no noteworthy differences in gender, age, or body mass index between these two groups.
Moreover, researchers found that not only did individuals with schizophrenia have a less varied intestinal flora. But they had certain bacterial groups which were so dissimilar to the schizophrenia victims they were able to recognize those who had it just by their gut microbiome, as well as trail the condition severity.
Researchers also conducted fecal transplants from the patients into germ-free mice. They report that these mice showed similar behaviors to mice which have been engineered to have a state like schizophrenia. Hence, they conclude that these results indicate a link between specific microbiome elements and the disorder. And according to them, starting with the gut may be a way for schizophrenia treatment.
Association of metabolism of gut microbes with intellectual health disorders is a poorly understood field. The main focus for it has been on animal models, where investigators have observed gut-brain connection. Recently, related attempts have been completed into understanding how this is central in humans.
Researchers stated that the gut is not only a place for water and food absorption. A number of central compounds are produced in the human gut. Furthermore, some of these compounds are neuroactive. Bacteria play a vital role in producing these compounds. They also help in degradation or modification of these molecules, but the extent of their impact remains largely uncertain.
More research required to explain the link
The most interesting evidence came when the investigators gave germ-free mice fecal transplants from the patients. The finding shows how varying the gut can affect an animal’s behavior, and it also provides a target for drug treatment.
It is also vital to point out this association does not infer causation, and it does not describe if it is the state affecting the gut flora or vice versa. It is important to continue studying further to see how mental disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression and the bacteria in our digestive tract relate to each other.