In the past decade, following high resolution observational studies using next-generation sequencing technologies, microbiome and metabolite profiling, gut microbiota has become closely associated with mental health.
The gut-brain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between these organs. Millions of nerves and neurons run between a person’s gut and brain. Through this connection, neurotransmitters, chemicals and toxic biproducts produced in the gut and by gut bacteria can affect the blood-brain barrier and the brain itself. We are also learning how closely connected our biomes are: oral, vaginal, skin – and even now understanding the presence of a brain biome. By supporting these ecosystems, improving gut health and modifying the bacterial balance within, it is possible to affect and improve mood and general mental health.
Comprehensive, clinical microbiome testing (such as GI-MAP, GI Effects or Healthpath Biovis Gut Testing) offer a window into the unique environment and ecosystem within a person’s gut. These tests can indicate how to support that individual’s gastrointestinal system. Studies demonstrate that omega-3 and probiotic supplementation, or augmenting the diet with fermented or polyphenol-rich foods can alter the gut environment, encouraging mental health improvements, lowering depression symptoms, improving well-being and reducing anxiety.
A growing body of research has found that a person’s genetic blueprint can play a role in increasing or decreasing their risk of developing various mental health conditions. A series of gene variants have been associated with alterations in neurotransmitter production and metabolism and presence of one, or many, of these variants can suggest a predisposition to certain mental health disorders. Direct-to-consumer genetic tests have come under fire for risk of error, and liability to misinterpretation by consumers. However, clinical genetic testing – either through next generation whole genome sequencing, or high integrity patented chip arrays – can provide clinicians with an understanding of the factors that make up an individual’s mental health genetic profile. Whilst genetic testing is not diagnostic for mental health conditions and only highlights predisposition, such testing allows for personalised and effective support plans to be developed, improving a person’s brain and neurotransmitter function, and therefore mental health overall.