Researchers suggest that the bacteria present in the gut may contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder.
For some individuals, the idea of a new year celebration may be exciting, but for others, being around others can bring about feelings of fear, unease, and discomfort. New studies suggest that microbes found in the gut could contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder, presenting new potential treatments.
In the past, researchers have discovered that the collection of bacteria and other organisms residing in the digestive system, known as the gut microbiome, varies between individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and those without. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that the gut microbiome can impact the brain, and vice versa.
New studies have revealed that introducing microbes from individuals with SAD into mice causes the animals to display a heightened reaction to social fear.
The discoveries expand upon past research that yielded comparable outcomes for a variety of conditions, including depression and irritable bowel syndrome.
According to Professor John Cryan from University College Cork, the recently published research emphasizes the significance of our gut flora in relation to disorders such as SAD, alongside genetics, environment, and other contributing factors.
The key idea is that we must care for our microbes, particularly during development and even in adulthood, in order to maintain proper functioning of the social brain,” he stated.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cryan and team detail their study on fecal samples from six individuals with SAD and six healthy individuals. DNA analysis revealed significant differences in the gut microbiome between the two groups.
The group transferred samples into six mice per sample, resulting in a total of 72 mice. Prior to this, all mice were administered antibiotics to eliminate their natural gut bacteria.
Afterwards, the mice underwent a series of examinations to examine different aspects of their actions. In order to study social anxiety, the researchers administered slight electric shocks to the mice when they approached a unfamiliar mouse, and then observed their behavior towards new mice when the shocks were no longer given.
The findings showed that the mice who were given gut microbes from individuals with SAD had varying levels of three specific bacterial species in their feces compared to those who were given gut microbes from individuals without the disorder.
The researchers noted that the mice’s behavior remained consistent in regards to anxiety and social behavior throughout most of the experiments. However, there was a noticeable difference after the social fear experiment. Mice who received gut microbes from healthy individuals regained their interest in interacting with unfamiliar mice in the following days. On the other hand, those who received gut microbes from individuals with SAD continued to exhibit fear towards approaching other mice.
Cryan stated that they were never able to fully recover and resume their social lives.
Additional investigation revealed variations in levels of specific hormones and components of the immune system among the mice.
Cryan stated that the presence of SAD microbiota in animals led to changes in both oxytocin, a hormone crucial for bonding, and the immune system, which have both been linked to social behavior in the past.
According to the team, the findings indicate that the gut microbiome may contribute to increased social fear reactions in individuals with social anxiety disorder. The study also presents potential opportunities for creating treatments for those with SAD.
Cryan stated that this may involve dietary changes aimed at modifying the microbiome.
He stated that adding more fibers and fermented foods to one’s diet could potentially have positive impacts. This is an area of interest that we would like to further investigate.