By On December 26th, 2018

Probiotics may improve bipolar disorder treatment by targeting gut inflammation

A sample of healthy gut bacteria
Image source: Nicola Fawcett/Wikimedia Commons

Bipolar disorder is often considered one of the most difficult mental health issues to treat because of the variety of issues that can prevent a full, long-term recovery.

Many with bipolar disorder do not respond to the most common treatments, including a combination of medicine and counseling. Even when the medications and treatment are effective, it is common for a person to stop taking their prescribed dosage when they enter remission. This can lead to a severe relapse into bipolar symptoms.

However, new research suggests that targeting a different part of the body could lead to more effective and consistent treatment for bipolar disorder.
Using probiotics, often referred to as “good bacteria”, researchers from Baltimore’s Sheppard Pratt Health System say they were able to not only reduce gut inflammation but also reduce bipolar disorder symptoms and improve overall health.

A number of studies in the past decade have suggested that bipolar disorder may be highly influenced by the gastrointestinal tract. This is believed to be due to a strong link between the gut and the central nervous system, which has been called the “gut-brain axis” (GBA).

This axis helps to transmit information related to the endocrine, immune, and autonomic nervous systems, but it appears to be impaired by inflammation in the gastrointestinal systems. When the ecosystem of microorganisms within the GI tract becomes misaligned or imbalanced, it appears to cause a number of issues related to mental health.

Specifically, in cases of bipolar disorder, research suggests that inflammation or overstimulation of the body’s immune system appears to play a role in the development of symptoms and issues related to bipolar disorder.

To assess whether this connection could be targeted in treatments using probiotics, lead researcher Faith Dickerson tracked the recovery of a group of patients hospitalized for a manic episode.

The participants agreed to be involved in a 6-month study which would track the effects of probiotic treatment on both their mood and immune system.

After hospitalization, the participants were randomly placed into two groups. One received the probiotic supplement in addition to their usual medication, while the other group was given a placebo.

According to the results from the end of the study, those who received the probiotic were less likely to be rehospitalized within a short period after treatment. They also tended to require less in-patient treatment time compared to those who received the placebo.

Notably, the effects were most pronounced among those who experienced the highest levels of gastrointestinal inflammation at the start of the study.

While the findings are early, they suggest that treating gastrointestinal inflammation along with the usual course of mood stabilizers or antipsychotics may provide more comprehensive treatment and recovery plan for those with bipolar disorder.

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