Fecal transplants as treatment for anxiety? Not so fast (but worth pondering)

 Just read this: Gut Bacteria Transplant: A New Treatment For Anxiety? | Psychology Today: calm vs. anxious.  On the one hand, I agree that the microbiome very well may have interesting effects on human behavior.  Well, actually, we know the microbiome does impact human emotion and behavior.  For example, I get pretty anxious when I have gut problems, and we certainly know that the microbiome has a major impact on gut health.  And of course, we know lots of examples of microbes affecting behavior of animals.  The latest on this that I am aware of comes from studies by Wendy Ingram in my brother’s lab at UC Berkeley – who has been looking at Toxoplasma and it’s effect on mouse behavior (e.g., see Toxoplasma infection permanently shifts balance in cat-and-mouse … and Cats, Mice and Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite Weird Love Triangle and Mice Aren’t Scaredy-Cats When Infected By Toxoplasma).

On the other hand, despite the apparent connections between microbes and emotion and behavior in some cases, this does not mean either that (1) microbes have a role in causing anxiety in people or (2) even if microbes CAUSE anxiety that microbiome transplants could treat the anxiety.  Anyway – I certainly think this is an interesting area of research but I urge caution before we go overboard in marketing fecal transplants for everyone with any issues connected to behavior or emotions …

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

One thought on “Fecal transplants as treatment for anxiety? Not so fast (but worth pondering)”

  1. Thanks for your blog Jonatha. Always an interesting read.

    I've had first hand experience of fecal microbiota transplant alleviating mental health symptoms, including anxiety. I attribute it to the reaction I had to an overgrowth of streptococcus in my gut, as identified via a fecal diversity test. Strep has a bad reputation stirring up mental health problems in kids (PANDAS = Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus) and I have experienced this first hand as an adult.

    In addition to this, many people in our facebook fecal transplant group have experienced varying degrees of relief from mental health symptoms when treating their gut problems. Unfortunately the medical profession likes to segment parts of the body so does not tackle this problem holistically. The only evidence I needed to convince me that mine was a poop problem, not a brain problem, was that the minute I emptied my bowel I felt sane for an hour afterwards. I could not wait to get a poop transplant. It saved my life as I would have killed myself the symptoms were so bad.

    If anyone is interested in learning more about what real people with real medical problems are experiencing from poop transplants – please visit thepowerofpoop.com


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