Healthy gut found to reduce effects of trauma: Study explains the link between the gut microbiome and PTSD
11/13/2017 // Michelle Simmons // Views

A new study found that a healthy gut can lessen the effects of trauma, as reported by Science Daily. Researchers from Stellenbosch University analyzed the relationship of gut microbiome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They compared the gut microbiomes of 18 individuals with PTSD to 12 people who also experienced trauma, but did not develop PSTD. They found a combination of three bacteria that were different in people who suffered from PTSD. These were Actinobacteria, Lentisphaerae, and Verrucomicrobia. (Related: Gut health linked to anxiety, depression and autism.)

Results showed that the participants with PTSD had smaller numbers of the three bacteria in contrast to the trauma-exposed participants. In addition, those who experienced trauma when they were a child had lesser levels of two out of the three bacteria, namely Actinobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. These bacteria are known to regulate the immune system.

“What makes this finding interesting, is that individuals who experience childhood trauma are at higher risk of developing PTSD later in life, and these changes in the gut microbiome possibly occurred early in life in response to childhood trauma,” said Stefanie Malan-Muller, lead author of the study.

The researchers also observed that the inflammation and changed immune regulation in participants with PTSD increased. They explained that these conditions could also affect the brain, brain functioning, and behavior. On the other hand, levels of inflammatory markers observed in individuals right after a traumatic event was found to be a sign of PTSD development.


The researchers hypothesized that immune deregulation and increased levels of inflammation among those who have PTSD may have led to the decrease of the three bacteria and may have played a role in the symptoms of their disease.

Still, the researchers were not able to identify if the decrease of gut bacteria was a factor in PTSD susceptibility or if it happened as a result of PTSD. However, the researchers believe that the study contributed to a better understanding of the factors that might take part in PTSD. Although, factors that influence PTSD susceptibility and resilience needs further research.

“...identifying and understanding all these contributing factors could, in future, contribute to better treatments, especially since the microbiome can easily be altered with the use of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics, or dietary interventions,” the researchers noted.

The study was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

More on microbiome and stress resilience

A study from the University of Colorado Boulder discovered that beneficial bacteria can help relieve stress and anxiety, according to a report by Scientific American. The researchers found that injecting beneficial bacteria into mice helped them become more resistant to the stress of living with bigger and more aggressive rats. They injected the mice with Mycobacterium vaccae, which acts like a drug that modulates the immune system of the mouse. Results showed that the injected rats showed less signs of anxiety or fear. Moreover, the injected rats acted more active around the bigger rats compared to those rats that were not injected with the bacteria.

“There is a growing recognition that the microbiome can impact health in general and more specifically, mental health,” said clinician Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

“Our study in PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] showed we can prevent a PTSD-like syndrome in mice,” said Christopher Lowry, lead researcher of the mice study.

More on PTSD

The National Institute of Mental Health defined PTSD as a disorder that occurs in some people who previously experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Anyone can develop PTSD at any age, including war veterans, children, and people who went through a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, or other serious events. In the United States, there are about 7.7 million adults living with PTSD, and 67 percent of people exposed to mass violence have been shown to develop PTSD.

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