October is Depression and Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is essential for overall health by helping individuals cope with their emotional, psychological and social well-being. This annual observance brings recognition to the need for accessible and affordable mental health screenings and depression awareness initiatives. Mental health is frequently ignored and stigmatized, underscoring the challenge around seeking help for millions suffering from depression or other mental health conditions. Struggling with mental health problems greatly impacts how a person feels, thinks and behaves. Not surprisingly, the stress, uncertainty and challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have profoundly impacted mental health in people from all age groups and backgrounds, and now more than ever people are struggling to find support for managing their mental health needs.
There is increasing evidence that the microbiome affects brain development, function and behavior. A recently published review paper describes key microbes and their role in human brain health and disease. Microbes and their metabolites are integral components of the bidirectional communication between the gut and brain (gut-brain axis).
Specifically, scientists found there is an altered gut microbiome associated with depression, including depletion of Dialister and a reduction in Faecalibacterium. Other studies have found a strong relationship between the presence of bacterial genera (such as Collinsella, Blautia and Coprococcus) that produce SCFA (short chain fatty acid) and tryptophan metabolites that can modulate cognition, behavior and mood in their host. For example, serotonin, a metabolite of tryptophan metabolism, is secreted in the gut and influences sleep, depression and gut health among others.
Next-generation sequencing is a key tool which has allowed researchers to profile the microbiome and explore the gut-brain axis. Identification of these neuroactive gut-brain modules and the use of high-throughput sequencing data may enable the development of novel diagnostic tools and therapeutic opportunities.
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