According to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, depression and anxiety may be a result of gastric disturbances at infancy. “A lot of research has focused on understanding how the mind can influence the body,” said Pankaj Pasricha, MD, professor and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology. “But this study suggests that it can be the other way around. Gastric irritation during the first few days of life may reset the brain into a permanently depressed state.” Dyspepsia, which is known as a chronic pain felt in the upper abdominal region, is experienced by nearly 20 percent of people. Research has shown that this segment of the population is more apt to be depressed or anxious. “The gut and the brain are hardwired together by the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the body’s internal organs” said Pasricha. “In addition, the gut has its own nervous system that is relatively independent. So the communication between the gut and the adult brain is elaborate and bi-directional, and changes in the gut are signaled directly to the brain.”
Rather than thinking that the stomach irritation was a result of the anxiety or depression, these researchers decided to determine if the reverse was true. Most of the patients who complain about chronic stomach irritation note that it was present long before their psychological symptoms. The researchers examined the behavior of 8 week old lab rats and discovered that those with gastric disturbances exhibited more depressive and anxious behaviors. “It seems that when the rats are exposed to gastric irritation at the appropriate point in time,” said Pasricha, “there is signaling across the gut to the brain that permanently alters its function.” The researchers anticipate future studies that examine the relationship that the signaling has with the brain and if that information will lead to the development of new techniques for treating both anxiety and depression in humans.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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