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The role between PTSD and your gut microbes

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that is developed after exposure to serious trauma. The symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing of the trauma via flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Avoidance of events, place and people who serve as a reminder of the traumatic event.
  • Negative emotion, difficulty sleeping and lack of concentration.

However, not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. Contributing factors associated with PTSD have been identified as substance abuse, family history of mental illness, personality traits and temperament, and childhood trauma. As a result of new research, scientists have recently added gut microbes to the list!

Our gut microbes fluctuate with our surrounding environment; both stress and emotional experiences have been found to alter the composition of our microbiome. As stress and emotion are contributors to PTSD, scientists are interested in investigating if there is a link between our microbes and the development of PTSD.

In a study carried out by Stellenbosch University[1], researchers compared the gut microbes of those who had and had not developed PTSD as a result of trauma. They found that those with PTSD had lower levels of three bacteria, Actinobacteria, Lentisphaerae and Verrucomicrobia, compared to those without PTSD yet had still experienced trauma.

What was interesting about the results was those participants who had experienced childhood trauma also had lower levels of Actinobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. This suggests that gut microbe changes in childhood as a result of trauma may help to explain why those who experience trauma in early life are more prone to develop PTSD, as they already have low levels of the associated bacteria.

The function of this trio of bacteria has been identified as immune system regulation, and scientists have noticed that sufferers of PTSD have been found to have increased inflammation and altered immune regulation.

From this research we are unable to decipher whether these low levels of bacteria contributes to the susceptibility of developing PTSD or is a consequence of developing the disease. It does, however, give us an insight into the risk factors associated with PTSD and may help scientists to improve the treatment of the psychiatric disease in the future.

[1] https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00006842-201710000-00014