Bacteria in the gut may affect our mental well-being and could be linked to depression, researchers said on Monday after conducting the largest study of its kind so far.
The World Health Organization says an estimated 300 million people suffer from depression, and there are known links between a patient's physical and mental health.
Scientists in Belgium now believe that a wide range of gut bacteria can produce chemicals that significantly impact the brain, including several microorganisms linked -- positively or negatively -- to mental health.
The experiment, known as the Flemish Gut Flora Project, examined depression data and stool samples from more than 1,000 people and found that two types of bacteria were "consistently depleted" in those who suffered from depression. This held true even if patients were on anti-depressants.
Scientists' understanding of how the gut and brain are linked is in its early stages, and the researchers acknowledged that their findings, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, could be considered controversial.
"The notion that microbial metabolites can interact with our brain -- and thus behaviour and feelings -- is intriguing," said lead researcher Jeroen Raes, from the department of Microbiology and Immunology at KU Leuven University.
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