The gut microbiome has been linked to depression, schizophrenia, and other neurological conditions, but it’s not yet clear whether the relationship is causal.

Years ago, when a family member was diagnosed with schizophrenia, University of Florida physiologist Bruce Stevens began scouring mental health research for effective treatments. One study in particular caught his attention and ultimately changed the trajectory of his own research.

In the study, schizophrenia patients had been treated for an infection with the antibiotic minocycline, and their psychosis had cleared up. The study authors suggested that the patients’ improved mental state was thanks to minocycline tamping down inflammation in the brain. But Stevens had a different idea. He wondered whether the antibiotic was “somehow knocking down bad bacteria” in the gut that might influence the patients’ psychosis. If so, gut bacteria might not only play a role in schizophrenia, Stevens supposed, but also in other mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.

 

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