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Can probiotics help fight depression?

First ever New Zealand trial to see if probiotics can help fight depression

July 20, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) PhD student is carrying out the first trial in New Zealand to see if probiotics, friendly bacteria which are naturally found in the gut, can help fight depression.

A 2011 report on international rates of mental health showed that, out of 10 high income countries studied, New Zealand had the second highest number of people who had experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year.

``One in six New Zealanders will experience serious depression at some time in their life. About one in seven young people in New Zealand will experience a major depressive episode before the age of 24,’’ UC PhD researcher Amy Romijn says.

``Women have higher rates of depression than men. One in five women, compared with one in eight men, will have depression over their lifetime. The World Health Organisation estimates that by the year 2020, depression will be the second most common cause of ill health and premature death worldwide.

``Despite their widespread use, many people find that antidepressant medications are not effective, or that the benefits wane over time. Others cannot tolerate the side effects, highlighting that other avenues of treatment are urgently needed for this debilitating condition.

``Recent studies on the gut-brain axis, a two-way pathway by which the gut and brain communicate, have indicated that chronic low-grade inflammation of the gut may be involved in the development of depression.

``It is even feasible that, in some cases, depression may be caused by chronic inflammation. Taking probiotics has been shown to reduce levels of inflammation, which gives us an opportunity to test the new gut-brain axis theory of depression in a clinical trial.

``We are carrying out the first trial on people using probiotics to treat a specifically depressed population. A total of 80 people with symptoms of depression will be tested over 16 weeks to see whether the probiotics can help with their symptoms.

``We will also try to find out how the probiotics have an effect by measuring certain chemicals in the blood which are related to both inflammation and depression.’’

The UC research, supervised by Associate Professor Julia Rucklidge, seeks to find out if and how probiotics can help depression. People who feel depressed, but are not taking antidepressants, and are interested in taking part in the study can be screened here:


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