Probiotic treatment may help alleviate some symptoms of bipolar disorder, according to a new study by researchers at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, Maryland.

The findings show that previously hospitalized bipolar patients who were given a probiotic supplement stayed out of the hospital longer and required less in-patient treatment time compared to a placebo group. The most dramatic improvements were seen in patients with the highest levels of gut inflammation at the beginning of the study.

In recent years, a growing body of research has shown a strong link between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This connection, called the “gut-brain axis,” allows for crosstalk between the endocrine, immune, and autonomic nervous systems.

The gastrointestinal tract is home to the intestinal microbiome, a complex population of roughly 100 trillion microorganisms (more than 10 times the number of cells that make up the human body). Studies have shown that the close connection between the gut microbiome and gastrointestinal tissue has a significant effect on the gut-brain axis.

There is also strong evidence linking imbalances in the gut microbiome to a number of health problems including allergies, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric mood disorders.

Previous research has also shown that inflammation, or overstimulation of the body’s immune system, is a contributing factor in bipolar disorder. With this in mind, researchers developed a probiotic supplement aimed at reducing inflammation caused by microbial imbalances in the gut.

A group of bipolar patients recently hospitalized for mania took part in the 6-month study to track the effects of probiotic treatment on both their mood and the status of their immune system.

The patients were randomly selected to receive either the probiotic supplement or a placebo in addition to their usual medications. The results reveal that the group receiving the probiotic supplement, on average, didn’t return to the hospital as quickly and required less in-patient treatment time compared to the placebo group.

The benefits were most pronounced in those patients who had exhibited abnormally high levels of inflammation at the beginning of the study.

Overall, the findings suggest that changes in intestinal inflammation can alter the trajectory of psychiatric mood disorders and that targeting the intestinal microbiota may be a treatment path for psychiatric patients.

Approximately 3 million people in the United States are diagnosed every year with bipolar disorder, a psychiatric condition characterized by dramatic shifts in mood from depression to mania.

Source: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology