The links between health and diet are well-known, but it would appear that they are even stronger than previously thought. The effect of certain foods on physical and mental health could even last for several years.
This is what Dr. Nafissa Ismail and PhD student Emma Murray, of the University of Ottawa, discovered. They developed an animal model that could help us understand the links between the onset of mental illness and exposure to certain stressors during adolescence, and their work offers a potential preventive solution: the consumption of probiotics during puberty.
“Our research showed that there were sex differences in reactions to stress and the development of mental illness,” explained Dr. Ismail. “They also illustrated the important role of the gut microbiome in brain development during puberty: the presence of healthy microbes in our gut could protect us from the development of mental illness later in life.”
During the study, two groups of mice were exposed to skim milk (control group) and kefir, or probiotic fermented milk (experimental group), during puberty. Both groups were also exposed to a stress factor (an infection that made the mice sick for about 48 hours).
Once they reached adulthood, mice in the control group showed symptoms of mental illness: males showed behaviours similar to anxiety, while females showed behaviours similar to depression. However, mice that consumed kefir did not develop behaviours related to these mental illnesses in adulthood. In addition, mice that consumed kefir were less affected by the infection than those in the control group were.
“These results are very important because more than 300 million people around the world are currently suffering from depression,” added Ms. Murray. “Most cases of depression and anxiety in adults begin during puberty, and these discoveries give us hope that one day we can prevent the development of these diseases.”
Depression and anxiety are pervasive in modern society, and the research of Dr. Ismail and PhD student Emma Murray has shed light on the little-known pathophysiology of these diseases.
To read the full paper, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, click here.
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