Link between intestinal flora and depression proven: KU Leuven and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)

You have good and bad bacteria. In our intestines alone there are up to 100,000 billion bacteria. But exactly which bacteria are present, and in what numbers, differs according to the individual. Bacteria are important for the smooth functioning of our intestines and our immune system, but recently scientists have also identified the link between intestinal flora and mental health.

Scientists at the KU Leuven and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) have been studying stool samples from over 5,000 volunteers for the ‘Flemish Intestinal Flora project’ since 2012. What have they found? Two types of bacteria, namely Dialister and Coprococcus, are lacking or are significantly less present in people experiencing reduced levels of happiness, or suffering from depression.

These happen to be two types of bacteria with an anti-inflammatory function. Another study has shown that depression, or a drop in the mental quality of life, is often associated with inflammation of the nervous system. The causal link has not yet been established with certainty. However, based on tests in mice, it is suggested that disrupted intestinal flora leads to depression, and not the other way around.

This new insight is promising for patients suffering from intestinal flora disorders and depression. In the future, it may be possible to introduce the missing bacteria into their systems. This would be a new generation of probiotics. There could be huge potential in using the body’s own bacteria as medicine.