The link between the brain and the gut could hold the key for developing better treatments for mental illness, a new research project is exploring.
At the moment, the importance of a healthy gut is often ignored when treating severe mental health conditions.
When in fact, emerging evidence is showing that mental health and gut health are closely connected through a two-way signalling pathway called the ‘gut-brain axis’.
Now, new research led by Dr Paul Joyce from the University of South Australia thanks to funding from The Hospital Research Foundation Group, aims to progress this knowledge and improve treatments for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
Dr Joyce said some mental health medications can actually have adverse effects by killing the good bacteria that lives in the gut, triggering side effects that could negatively impact the person’s mental health.
His research aims to reduce these side effects by specifically targeting the gut microbiome.
“The gut microbiome is integral for regulating mood and cognition, since it is responsible for producing a range of neurotransmitters and mood stabilisers, such as serotonin,” Dr Joyce said.
“Current medications can lead to cascading metabolic and mental health issues and few patients benefit long-term from the current therapy.”
Dr Joyce will attempt to combat the negative side effects of current mental health medications by creating new formulas that work with the microbiome rather than against it, getting more of the drug into the bloodstream and leaving less in the gut.
If successful, he said the findings could prove to be a game-changer when it comes to managing mental health.
“Our new and modified therapies have the potential to drastically improve clinical outcomes for patients suffering from mental health,” Dr Joyce said.
“Importantly, our research is also shining a light on the importance of a more holistic therapeutic approach for treating mental health, where the importance of gut health and the gut-brain axis cannot be ignored.”
While the project is only nine months in, the early outcomes have shown positive signs that Dr Joyce and his team are on the right track.
We look forward to providing more updates on the project as they come!