There’s a new ally in the effort to help people living with depression — gut bacteria.
People with depression have distinct intestinal microbes that differ from those without the disorder, University of Florida Health researchers have found. They hope the recent findings will lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating depression using genetic profiling of gut bacteria.
To establish intestinal bacteria as a source of depression, the UF Health scientists analyzed microbial DNA from two groups of people — those with major depressive disorder and those who were mentally healthy. They sorted the massive amount of data using a form of artificial intelligence.
But why use gut bacteria to diagnose depression? Because, the study’s lead researcher noted, it’s an objective technique that can help to supplement a clinician’s subjective interpretation of depression. Using artificial intelligence to analyze millions of data points gives scientists a clearer view about how gut bacteria differs in people living with depression.
The DNA-driven analysis also has the potential to do more than help diagnose depression. One day, it may be used to develop treatments for the disease. Certain bacteria are responsive to particular antibiotics and antidepressants, meaning that they might one day be used to target depression-related gut bacteria. Diet modification also has therapeutic potential because different types of food influence whether the gut harbors beneficial or harmful microbes.
Next, the researchers are looking at other disorders that accompany depression, such as treatment-resistant high blood pressure. More broadly, gut microbes can be a window for diseases that affect the entire body.