Researchers Find Probiotics and Neurofeedback Promising New Treatment For Depression
Depression is the most common mental health condition in the United States, and it regularly affects millions of Americans. Treatments range from pharmaceutical antidepressants to holistic practices such as yoga and meditation. As many find some relief, there’s little doubt that many people continue to struggle despite the massive amount of research conducted and currently available information.
The reason there are so many approaches to treatment is likely a reflection of the complex nature of depression, and that it is highly individualized and consists of multiple components. Factors that contribute to depression may include brain chemistry and structure, genetics, hormonal changes, a history of trauma or negative family dynamics, poor physical health, and much, much more.
In the ongoing fight, there are two recent approaches to treatment for depression that have potential to offer additional relief.
fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) Neurofeedback
fMRI neurofeedback is a new technique that has the potential to increase the personalization of depression. It allows patients to observe activity in their amygdala while intentionally increasing activity by entertaining positive memories.
The amygdala is a group of structures located deep in the brain. Among other important functions, it is strongly associated with emotional regulation. According to Harvard Health Publications, the amygdala is an area that plays “a significant role in depression.”
The amygdala is linked to emotions such as anger, fear, pleasure, sadness, and sexuality. It is activated when a person entertains emotional memories, such as a traumatic or frightening event. Activity increases when the person is sad or depressed, and this activity increases even after recovery from depression.
In a study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, three dozen adult participants were divided into two groups. One group, the control, participated in a neurofeedback exercise that focused on an area of the brain not associated with the processing of emotions, while other group performed the exercise on their amygdalas.
Once the amygdalas and other brain regions of study were located in the individuals, participants were asked to view a signal from the part of the brain being measured. They were then asked to regulate the strength of that signal by recalling positive memories.
After just two sessions, researchers found that 12 of 19 participants who engaged in fMRI neurofeedback experienced a significant decrease in depression – compared to just two people from the control group.
Researchers noted that importantly, fMRI neurofeedback is not the same as EEG neurofeedback, a technique that allows people to manipulate their own brain waves using an EEG device.
The study shows great promise, but much research is needed before fMRI neurofeedback may be accepted and become an available treatment for depression in humans.
A recent study from Canada revealed that the use probiotics could relieve symptoms of depression. Probiotics can be used in the treatment of common gastrointestinal stress such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS affects the large intestine and may result in side effects such as stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation. It is also associated with anxiety and depression.
According to WebMD, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, beneficial for the digestive system and overall health. They are thought of as good bacteria, versus bad bacteria which can cause infection and disease. They occur naturally in your body, but can also be found in certain supplements and food.
Researchers from McMaster University found that twice as many adults with IBS reported improvement in depression than those who consumed placebos, thus providing more evidence that the microbial environment in the gut is in direct communication with the brain.
Dr. Premysl Bercik, associate professor of medicine at McMaster and a gastroenterologist for Hamilton Health Sciences:
“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases.”
About The Study
The study included 44 adults with IBS and anxiety or depression. One group took a daily dose of a probiotic for ten weeks while others were given a placebo.
By six weeks, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the patients who consumed the probiotics experienced a decrease in depression, compared to just under one-third (32%) of patients who were given a placebo. fMRI images revealed that improvement in depression was linked to change in several areas of the brain related to mood regulation.
“This is the result of a decade-long journey — from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain.”
The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from Nestlé. It is published in the medical journal Gastroenterology.
The good news is that anyone can pick up probiotics at a local pharmacy without a prescription for use as a potential treatment for depression.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology