News Flash: Gut Bacteria and Depression, Movement and Cognition, and Other Health News

Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we examine new research that links depression to a dearth of two microbes in the gut, how aerobic exercise improves cognition, and good news for older marathoners.

Mounting evidence that your gut affects your mood

Scientists are continuing to learn more about how the collection of microbes in a person’s gut might affect different aspects of their health, including, in this case, their mental health.

A study of two large groups of Europeans found that several species of gut bacteria are missing in people with depression, according to this summary in Science. Researchers can’t say whether the dearth of these microbes caused the depression or are just an effect of the illness, but the findings did show that gut bacteria could make substances that affect nerve cell function and maybe mood.

The first study assessed the microbiomes of more than 1,000 Belgians, with 173 in the group reporting a diagnosis of depression or performing poorly on a quality-of-life survey. When the team compared the participants’ microbes, they found that two types of bacteria—Coprococcus and Dialister—were missing from the microbiomes of the depressed subjects but not from those with a high quality of life. Moreover, depressed people had an increase in bacteria linked to Crohn’s disease, suggesting inflammation may be at fault. A second Dutch study of roughly the same size also found that the same two types of bacteria were missing in the seven subjects suffering from severe clinical depression.

The studies could lead to novel probiotic treatments for depression.

It’s true, that running can help you think better

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or even climbing the stairs may improve thinking skills not only in older people but also in 20-somethings, according to a new study published in Neurology and summarized on ScienceDaily. Moreover, the study found that the positive effect of movement on thinking skills appears to increase as people age.

The specific set of thinking skills that improve with movement is called executive function, which is a person’s ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize and achieve goals.

Of the 132 people with below-average fitness levels participating in the study, one group was assigned to do monitored aerobic exercise four times a week for six months, and another group was assigned stretching and toning exercises. Both groups reported an increase in executive functioning, but the aerobic exercise group reported a bigger bump in brain power, which increased with the age of the participant.

Is there such a thing as too much movement?

Midlife marathoners and other endurance athletes may be familiar with the concerns about the risk this strenuous exercise can pose for heart disease. But a new study published in JAMA Cardiology could help quiet some of those objections.

The study found that middle-aged men who exercised vigorously often do tend to develop more troubling plaque on their cardiac arteries. However, they also tend to die less prematurely than more sedentary folks from a heart attack or other cause. In other words, says Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times, strenuous workouts may protect the heart from the very problems to which it contributes.

This probably occurs because extreme workouts create a unique type of plaque, one that may be more dense and stable, and less likely to break free and cause a heart attack, says Dr. Laura DeFina, chief science officer for the Cooper Institute, who led the study. However, more research is needed to test this theory.

Photo credit: Marjan_Apostolovic, Thinkstock