A recent study suggests that viruses residing in the human gut may play a role in managing stress.
Research suggests that while viruses are generally considered detrimental to our well-being, there is a specific group of viruses residing in the digestive system that may actually have a significant impact on managing stress.
The finding contributes to growing proof that the connection between the gut and brain impacts human behavior. This could potentially pave the way for novel treatments for stress-related disorders by targeting the numerous viruses residing within our bodies.
Previous research has indicated that the makeup of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract alters due to stress, but this has primarily focused on bacteria and not the “virome.”
Dr. Nathaniel Ritz, from the APC Microbiome Ireland research center at University College Cork, stated that there is still much to be discovered about the relationship between the virome and bacteria and how it impacts stress-related health and disease. However, their research has the potential to lead to new ways of targeting the virome to alleviate and prevent the effects of stress.
Ritz and his team concentrated on a specific group of viruses known as bacteriophages. These viruses infect bacteria and reproduce in unison with them. They examined the effects of chronic social stressors, like isolation or overcrowding, on these viruses and observed alterations in both the virus and bacterial populations within the intestinal tracts of mice.
Afterwards, the researchers collected viruses from the feces of calm and healthy animals and reintroduced some of them into mice that had been subjected to constant social stress. The study, which was published in Nature Microbiology, indicated that these transplants decreased the amount of stress hormones and lessened symptoms of depression and anxiety in the mice.
More research is required to determine if transferring viruses can help individuals with stress-related disorders. However, this study is one of the first to show that gut viruses play a role in the response to stress and that modifying them could potentially have healing effects.
According to Professor John Cryan of APC Microbiome Ireland, who led the study, the varying composition of the virome among individuals could potentially lead to personalized medicine strategies for stress-related disorders in the future. It is important to recognize that not all viruses are harmful and they can actually help keep harmful bacteria in check, especially during periods of stress.