Several recent studies have shown a connection between the gastrointestinal tract and disease, especially in relation to the human microbiome (beneficial microorganisms that live in the human body).
Diseases ranging from the common cold to diabetes to heart disease to cancer have a correlation to the digestion system, making many experts believe that a healthy GI tract leads to a healthy body.
The Connection Between The Brain and the Gut
The gut does not just have an impact on a person’s physical health. Some studies have also shown a link between taking probiotics, the friendly intestinal bacteria, and improvement in mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. These studies show that there might be a two-way street for signals between the brain and the gut.
For example, those with gastrointestinal problems experience anxiety or depression, and those who are anxious or under stress often experience gastrointestinal problems. A new study shows another link between GI health and mental health: inflammation markers in the gut are related to bipolar disorder, which might lead the way to new treatment options.
Bipolar Disorder And Inflammation
Symptoms of bipolar disorder include having severe mood swings between lows and highs, or depression and mania, where both ends of the spectrum are outside the normal range of mood for that person.
There are different types of bipolar disorder, which can cause longer episodes of depression or longer episodes of mania. Bipolar disorder can be debilitating, making it difficult for a person to live his or her day-to-day life. However, it is a treatable disease, with most treatments utilizing a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Recent research into bipolar disorder has found that inflammation plays a role in the disorder. Although it is not yet classified as an inflammatory disease (examples of inflammatory diseases include celiac disease, arthritis, and asthma), many experts are focusing on the inflammation associated with bipolar disorder to better understand the cause, and find alternative treatments.
Bipolar disorder has a high incidence rate of comorbidity with physical diseases. Around 80 percent of those with bipolar disorder also have co-occurring medical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and autoimmune disorders that are associated with inflammation. This suggests that there might be a correlation between inflammation and bipolar disorder, rather than conventional theory that psychological illness and medication cause these conditions.
New Findings About GI Inflammation And Bipolar Disorder
A new study shows that the inflammation associated with bipolar disorder might start in the gut for some individuals, or at least reside there. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found a four-fold increase in risk for bipolar disorder, regardless of medication, among people with an elevated level of the GI inflammation marker anti-Saccharomyces cerevisiae antibodies (ASCA). These are the same inflammation markers associated with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease.
For the study, the researchers looked at the ASCA levels of 264 bipolar disorder patients, 38 of whom recently experienced psychosis. The high levels of ASCA also corresponded to levels of immunoglobulin G, an antibody that fights against wheat gluten and cow milk caseins. Bipolar disorder patients with GI symptoms, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, had an especially likelihood of having the inflammation and antibodies.
This research supports previous theories that exorphins, which are the byproducts of casein and gluten digestion, might affect the function of the brain by acting on the opioid receptors. This could trigger depression or mania in a person susceptible to bipolar disorder.
The researchers investigated this connection further by studying the correlation between ASCA levels and non-food-related antigens, such as measles and Toxoplasma gondii, and found there were also significant correlations, but only in those who had a recent onset of psychosis.
The Future Of Treatment
The researchers believe that although more research is necessary, especially with larger sample sizes, the possibility of a more generalized inflammatory nature inherent in the earlier stages of the disease cannot be discounted. They also believe that their findings may help identify those with bipolar disorder who are also at risk for GI problems or food-based sensitivities. They conclude that the study shows a heightened risk of comorbidity between GI problems and bipolar disorder. It might also be a part of the overall heightened active immune state common in mood disorders, including bipolar disorder.
The researchers also concluded that additional research is needed to investigate whether treatment strategies that include dietary modifications, anti-inflammatory agents and microbiota modulations (such as taking probiotics) might help improve some symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Sovereign Health Group provides state-of-the-art, evidence-based treatment for bipolar disorder and all underlying and co-occurring conditions in our Mental Health Program. We also help with any other type of mental disorder, addiction, eating disorders, and dual diagnosis. We are Joint Commission accredited and dually licensed to treat mental health and substance abuse. Visit this page to learn more about our program, or call our Admissions team at 866-264-9778.