How Early-Life Stress Could Increase Risk Of Anxiety And Depression Later In Life

The trillions of organisms living in your digestive track can literally change the way your brain works.

Scientists continue to find more and more evidence of the significant influence gut bacteria has on mental health. Studies have linked gut bacteria imbalances to a host of health issues, including depression, anxiety, autism and Alzheimer’s disease, and research has also suggested that a healthy microbiome can contribute to a healthy brain and good mood.

These issues can be activated at a very young age. New research suggests that a stressful childhood might set you up for gut dysfunction and mental health issues down the road.

In a study on mice, which was published this week in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from McMaster University in Canada showed that early-life stress can lead to imbalances in the gut microbiome and contribute to the development of anxiety and depression.

“Early life stress changes the composition and metabolic activity of bacteria in the gut,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Premysl Bercik, a professor of gastroenterology at the university’s medical school, told The Huffington Post in an email. “We postulate that this change is due to altered gut function induced by stress.”

The stress-bacteria connection

For the study, the researchers subjected infant mice to stress by separating them from their mothers when they were between 3 and 21 days old.

After being subjected to maternal separation, the mice had abnormally high levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and displayed anxiety and depression-like behavior. The mice also showed imbalances in gut bacteria, which the researchers attributed to the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in the stress response that communicates between the body and the brain.

Then, the researchers repeated the experiment in —> Read More