Stomach Irritation May Be Linked to Depression

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.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • pauline

    pauline

    May 17th, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    Well could you imagine living with that kind of discomfort day in and day out? I think that I would be depressed living with that too.

  • BT

    BT

    May 17th, 2011 at 11:33 PM

    This is bad news really.Coz gastric problems may occur and it’s not exactly controllable is it?What is the best recourse for such a person?Has anything been suggested?

  • Sady

    Sady

    May 18th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    I have for years suffered with IBS and there are days when I have not known if I could deal with it anymore. Having an issue like this can change everything that you do and even the way that you think about food and activities. There are things that I know I cannot indulge in or even participate in because they will aggravate my symptoms and that is something that I will always try to avoid. I take medication but a lot of times what I eat and allow to bother me are the best predictors for keeping this illness under the best control for me. But it can be hard especially when you are younger to find the lifestyle that will allow you to live your life to the fullest without having to suffer.

  • Jean

    Jean

    May 19th, 2011 at 4:39 AM

    What I find to be so odd is how many young mothers I now here saying who have children with digestive disorders. They have to take special formula and can’t do this or that or even have to take medication for it. Where is all of this coming from? When I had my children many years ago you never heard much talk like this, but now you seem to be abnormal if your child can eat normally or eat anything that they want. Is this something that we have created? I think that the evidence would point to yes.

  • BB

    BB

    May 20th, 2011 at 7:22 PM

    To quote a line from Inception-“Pain…is in the mind”!

    This is so true…Now only if we could have therapies efficient enough to make pain killers redundant, that would be so cool.

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