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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
The digestive tract and the brain are crucially linked, according to mounting evidence showing that diet and gut bacteria are able to influence our behavior, thoughts and mood. Now researchers have found evidence of bacterial translocation, or “leaky gut,” among people with depression.
Normally the digestive system is surrounded by an impermeable wall of cells. Certain behaviors and medical conditions can compromise this wall, allowing toxic substances and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. In a study published in the May issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, approximately 35 percent of depressed participants showed signs of leaky gut, based on blood tests.
The scientists do not yet know how leaky gut relates to depression, although earlier work offers some hints. Displaced bacteria can activate autoimmune responses and inflammation, which are known to be associated with the onset of depression, lower mood and fatigue. “Leaky gut may maintain increased inflammation in depressed patients,” which could exacerbate the symptoms of depression if not treated, says Michael Maes, a research psychiatrist with affiliations in Australia and Thailand and an author of the paper. Currently leaky gut is treated with a combination of glutamine, N-acetylcysteine and zinc—believed to have anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties—when behavioral and dietary modifications fail.
Causes of Leaky Gut
Regular use of painkillers
Regular use of antibiotics
Infections (such as HIV)
Inflammatory bowel disease
Severe food allergies
Ulcer Bacteria Linked to Cognitive Decline
One type of harmful bacteria escaping the gut might be Helicobacter pylori, the main cause of stomach ulcers. H. pylori may contribute to cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the June issue ofPsychosomatic Medicine. Compared with uninfected individuals, people who tested positive for H. pylori performed worse on cognitive tests, including ones assessing verbal memory. Some laboratory evidence indicates that H. pylori cells can escape the gut and sneak into the brain. There the cells aggregate with the amyloid proteins characteristic of Alzheimer’s and instigate the buildup of plaque, suggests study co-author May Baydoun, a staff scientist at the National Institute on Aging. The National Institutes of Health estimates that about 20 percent of people younger than 40 and half of adults older than 60 are infected with the bacteria, which can be treated with antibiotics.
Bugs That Influence the Brain
Preliminary research suggests that these common gut microbes can also affect our thoughts and feelings.
1. Helicobacter pylori: Children infected with this ulcer-causing bacterium performed worse on IQ tests, suggesting a possible link between H. pylori infection and cognitive development.
2. Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum: Healthy human volunteers who consumed a probiotic mix of these bacteria exhibited less anxiety and depression.
3. Probiotic bacteria B. animalis subsp. lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, L. lactis subsp. lactis:Healthy women who consumed yogurt containing these bugs showed less activity in brain regions that process emotions and physical sensations. Researchers do not yet know whether these effects were beneficial; they also have not discovered the mechanism underlying the observed shift in brain activity.
4. Lactobacilli: Healthy students had fewer of these bacteria present in their stool during a high-stress exam time compared with a less stressful period during the semester. The findings suggest a potential link between stress and gut microbes, but the exact relation remains unknown.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)
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