Amare New Products Overview

Just a few days ago, we launched 4 new products at the Amare Heart2Heart Mental Wellness Symposium in Anaheim.

On Monday Sept 9 on Zoom and Facebook Live, I gave a recap for people who were not able to attend the symposium (or who attended and want to hear it again). Here is the recorded video on YouTube

On Tuesday Sept 10, I did another new product recap – and also answered questions after the presentation. Here is the recorded video of the Tuesday night presentation (with Q&A)

Here are the slides that I used for both presentations = H2H 2019 Products Slide Overview

Please let me know any questions?

 

Skinnier in the 80’s?

The Atlantic recently posted a provocative video (less than 5min) with some ideas about how we’re SO much heavier and less healthy now (compared to the 1980s), despite similarities in diet and exercise patterns – and what might be some of the causes?

On their short list…

  1. Exposure to plastics, endocrine disruptors (in cosmetics), antibiotics, and environmental contaminants (maybe you should enhance your liver’s ability to detoxify your exposure to this garbage)?
  2. Widespread use of antidepressant drugs – which are well-known to increase body weight, stimulate appetite, and decrease motivation to exercise (maybe you need to get off these dangerous and marginally-effective drugs)?
  3. Microbiome changes (gut bacteria) – eating a Western diet is known to reduce the diversity and resilience of our bacteria ecology (maybe you should look into improving microbiome balance – which can enhance metabolism and optimize mood state (energy, focus, motivation, resilience)?

What are you doing for your Mental Wellness?

College Presidents Prioritizing Student Mental Health

I thought this report from the American Council on Education raised some very important points about mental wellness on our college campuses.

Read my highlights below and see the FULL Report here = https://www.higheredtoday.org/2019/08/12/college-student-mental-health-well-survey-college-presidents/ and the original summary article here = https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/08/12/college-presidents-prioritizing-mental-health-more-previous-years-new-study-finds

As cases of student anxiety and depression skyrocket, top university officials are focusing more on these issues, according to a new report.

With college students reporting problems with anxiety and depression more than ever before, and suicides now a big problem on campuses, university presidents are responding accordingly.

More than 80 percent of top university executives say that mental health is more of a priority on campus than it was three years ago, according to a new report released today by the American Council on Education.

Student mental health concerns have escalated over the last 10 years,” the report states.

“We wanted to know how presidents were responding to this increase. To assess short-term changes, we asked presidents to reflect on the last three years on their campus and whether they have observed an increase, decrease, or no change in how they prioritize mental health.”

ACE, which represents more than 1,700 college and university presidents, surveyed more than 400 college and university leaders from two- and four-year public and private institutions. About 78 percent of those surveyed were at four-year universities, and the remainder led two-year institutions.

The association found 29 percent of all the presidents surveyed received reports of students with mental health issues once a week or more. About 42 percent of the presidents reported hearing about these problems at least a few times every month. As a result, presidents have allocated more funding to addressing student mental health problems — 72 percent of the presidents indicated they had spent more money on mental health initiatives than they did three years ago. One unnamed president even reported spending $15 million on a new “comprehensive student well-being building.”

Hollie Chessman, a research fellow with ACE who helped draft the report, said the association wanted to assess how presidents were navigating the student mental health “crisis” and the types sorts of resources they were devoting to mitigate it. A recent study by the American Psychiatric Association found that in 2017 about 34 percent of students were being treated for some sort of mental health issue, compared to 19 percent of students in 2007.

Presidents surveyed by ACE said they heard about students’ problems with anxiety and depression the most. About 75 percent of presidents reported hearing about anxiety and depression the most frequently among mental health issues, with 23 percent of presidents saying suicide was one of the top problems on the campus. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“We know that poor mental health hinders student academic success,” Chessman said. “I think it’s important that mental health and well-being be a campuswide priority, and it is for a lot of college presidents.”

The presidents also said they relied mostly on their top student affairs professional — the vice president of student affairs or a person in an equivalent position — to handle student mental health matters. Roughly 92 percent of presidents said they depended the most on their vice president for student affairs and about 85 percent of presidents said they relied on student affairs executives. “This wasn’t a surprise,” Chessman said. “It definitely speaks to the pressure that student affairs professionals are under.” Some of the presidents’ choices as the go-to person on campus for mental health matters were surprising — about 32 percent indicated that they relied on their campus police chief, and 27 percent said they relied on legal counsel.

Professors also spent more time dealing with mental health problems among students than they had three years ago, according to the presidents. About 82 percent of presidents said they agreed or strongly agreed that faculty devoted more time to student mental health than in previous years. “The issues facing students have become more complex and time-consuming for faculty and staff to address,” one president said in the report. “It also involves multiple staff (student services, counseling, security, external resources, safety, legal) to develop a comprehensive plan to address.”

About 58 percent of presidents said they would add more staff to address mental health concerns, particularly in the campus counseling centers, if they had unlimited financial resources. Across the country, these centers often report being overburdened as more students feel comfortable taking advantage of the mental health services provided, Chessman said. She noted that the increased use of these centers is a sign that perhaps the stigma about seeking help for mental health problems is lessening.

Chessman said she would like to see follow-up research on mental health programs and “best practices around these issues” in higher ed. For example, while writing the survey report, she found one institution that required all students, professors and staff at the university to receive “mental health first aid” training on how to handle mental health problems and crises on campus. “It’s really important to know what all institutions are doing to address these issues,” she said.

Amare Product/Science Overview (August 20, 2019)

Every Tuesday night, I give an overview of the Amare products and science around the microbiome, gut-brain-axis, and mental wellness.

Here is the session from last night on YouTube = https://youtu.be/Go3QO-TRf9c

Here are the slides that I used = Talbott Zoom Overview SHORT

Hope this is helpful in understanding the following main points:

  1. How we feel is not just in our brain
  2. Our “second brain” (our gut) and our microbiome (bacteria) have a major impact on our mental wellness
  3. We can improve our mental wellness NATURALLY

What is “health”?

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

-World Health Organization

AmareLife Beta-Release at Heart2Heart Symposium

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Special Exclusive for Heart2Heart Attendees: AmareLife® Beta Release Access!

From day one, we have set out to challenge the status quo of how mental wellness is addressed. We knew it wasn’t just products. It wasn’t just programs. It wasn’t just people — it was a holistic mental wellness platform of all three!

Highly Anticipated Special Announcement: Attend Heart2Heart and get EXCLUSIVE access to the PRIVATE BETA RELEASE of AmareLife®, the technological innovation that delivers the Amare platform of products, programs and people to your fingertips via your smartphone!*

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EXCLUSIVE to those that attend Heart2Heart and are registered as a Wellness Partner or Preferred Customer:

  • Get access to download and use AmareLife FIRST, before anyone else!
  • Be part of our exclusive group that will provide testimonials and feedback on our first version of AmareLife!
  • Your experiences and feedback will be listened to and will drive future innovative developments to both AmareLife and our entire platform of products, programs and people.

*This first version of AmareLife is available for iOS (Apple) devices only.

Register for Heart2Heart
Our Heart2Heart Mental Wellness Symposium is only a few weeks away, so it’s time to register NOW!
Attend to:

  • Join the Private Beta Release of AmareLife®.
  • Get new products FIRST.
  • Access exclusive new programs.
  • Hear from special speakers, including Elizabeth Smart and Best-Selling Author Steve Farber.
  • Learn from mental wellness experts.
  • Experience enlightening education.
  • Network with a purposeful community of passionate people.
  • And so much more!
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This special event will be taking place from Sept. 5–7, 2019, at the Hilton Anaheim, CA. Join us to see and hear all about our new product and program announcements FIRST — before everyone else!
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Eat Yourself Happy?

Good overview of a new scientific discipline (that many of us have been practicing for 20+ years) – nutritional psychology/psychiatry. Read the original article here and see my highlights below…

Nutritional psychiatry: can you eat yourself happier?

What we stick in our mouths matters to our mental health,’ says a leading light in this new field. So what should we be eating?

Diet can have a significant effect on mood, say researchers.

Felice Jacka’s work showing that junk food shrinks the brain was motivated by personal experience. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Jacka struggled with anxiety and panic disorders; by the time she enrolled at art school, she was accustomed to regular bouts of depression, too, leaving her “devoid of happy feelings and unable to experience pleasure”.

But in her late 20s Jacka managed to recover and stay well by focusing on her diet, exercise and sleep. The effect was so marked that it inspired her to put her life as an artist on hold in order to dedicate herself to studying the effects of diet on mental health.

She is now head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry– a relatively new field of research, applying a rare scientific rigour to the link between diet and mental health. For her PhD study in 2010, Jacka found that women whose diets were higher in vegetables, fruit, fish and wholegrains, with moderate amounts of red meat, were less likely to have depression or anxiety disorders than those who consumed a typical western diet of processed foods, pizza, chips, burgers, white bread and sweet drinks.

Her study made the cover of the American Journal of Psychiatry; shortly afterwards, studies in Spain and the UK identified similar trends. Today Jacka is at the forefront of nutritional psychiatry, studying large samples of populations for indications of the impact of entire diets (not individual ingredients) on mental health. Correlations cannot prove causality outright, but by replicating results repeatedly, risk factors can be identified and studied further. Her new book, Brain Changer, is a straight-talking, evidence-based antidote (complete with recipe ideas for good mental health) to the bloggers and self-styled dietary experts who, she says, have “brought nutrition research into disrepute”.

“When I first started, people were terribly sceptical – they thought it was just rubbish,” says Jacka. “In psychiatry, people are trained to think about particular molecules in the brain that can be targeted by certain drugs and they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture – the body as a whole complex system.”

More than 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers later, Jacka has amassed evidence from all over the world showing that “what we stick in our mouths matters to our mental health”.

For her so-called Smiles trial, published in 2017, Jacka recruited 67 moderate to severely depressed people with unhealthy diets. Half received seven sessions with a clinical dietician while the others received “social support”, involving friendly conversation. After 12 weeks, one-third of those who had received nutritional support were in remission, compared with 8% of those who had had the social support. Scientifically speaking, says Jacka, “it was a pretty big difference”.

She is keen to snuff out fanciful ideas about quick fixes, and food trends dressed up as panaceas – the success resulted not from “clean eating” or coconut oil, but from following standard advice for a healthy, balanced diet. As an added bonus, the participants spent a little less on food than they did on their original diets – and probably ended up with bigger brains, too. In a 2015 study of 250 older Australians, Jacka found that the less healthy their diets, the smaller their left hippocampuses (the brain region linked with emotional regulation and mental health); the finding was more recently replicated in the Netherlands with 4,000 older adults.

Overall, Jacka has found that simply following a healthier diet– without other lifestyle modifications such as exercise, but taking into account things such as education, income, bodyweight and other health behaviours – results in a 30% reduced risk of depression.

That healthier diet may vary from country to country, but research has shown that, regardless of where you live, eating closer to a traditional, pre-industrial diet rich in plant foods, fish, unrefined grains and fermented foods, with less meat and highly palatable processed and snack foods, reduces your risk of depression. It could be the Mediterranean diet or Japanese cuisine rich in fish, seaweed, green tea and tofu, Jacka writes: “There’s not just one healthy way to eat.”

One unexpected finding of her PhD study, for example, was that cutting out red meat led to poorer mental health among the 1,000 participants. “We saw in our data a very clear pattern around too little or too much being problematic,” she says. “A tiny amount – three or four palm-sized servings [65-100g] a week – was associated with about half the probability of having a depressive or anxiety disorder. I suspect there’s probably individual variation in how much people need.” The need is probably greater in young women who are menstruating, adds Jacka (who does not eat red meat “for ethical reasons”).

Grain-fed beef (common in the US) is also less healthy than grass-fed beef, which is higher in the fatty acids that have been linked to improved mental health.

As for fish, eating it about three times a week is a component of many healthy diets – but there are unlikely to be extra benefits from eating more, Jacka writes. Fish-oil supplements can be helpful for some people with severe clinical depression, “but it’s definitely not a panacea for the wider population,” she says. “Have sardines on your toast, or some mackerel, mussels, or – if you can afford it – oysters.”

Jacka is the first to admit that we may never understand how individual ingredients of our diet combine to influence the brain: “The complexity of the human body is mind-boggling.” And because even the most beige western diet comprises countless individual chemicals invisibly interacting with each other, “we can’t even begin to measure all their effects”.

Cottage cheese, for example, is often trotted out as a mood-boosting food because it is rich in tryptophan, which is essential for creating serotonin, the “happy hormone”. If only nutrition were that simple. Scientists have failed to find any evidence that eating foods (or supplements) rich in tryptophan affects mental health, with other amino acids in foods restricting its journey from stomach to brain.

It is the trillions of micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeasts that live in our guts that help convert tryptophan into serotonin, and they can be encouraged by consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, and fibre from many different plant sources. But, crucially, it is not enough just to eat well: you need to consume all the nutrients and fibre your body needs – and avoid significant consumption of refined and heavily processed foods. “People are eating all this stuff that’s toxic and detrimental to their brain health,” says Jacka. One reason to avoid high-sugar diets, for example, is that they lead to an increase in the same inflammation markers that are raised in people with depression.

The gut microbiome is also key to regulating inflammation. Recent animal studies have shown that depression can be transmitted through fecal microbial transplants (“It’s poo in a pill, or ‘crapsules’”); Jacka is currently investigating whether good mental health can be transmitted the same way.

However it might be achieved, she is convinced of the need to address what she sees as the current mental health “disaster”. Unlike most risk factors for depression (including genes, poverty, trauma and abuse), diet is something we can modify– yet only about 10% of the population eat an adequately healthy diet, says Jacka. “The fact that we’ve got something under our nose that could potentially address a good proportion of the burden of depression is really important.”

The elephant in the room is the global food industry. “Big Food has completely altered the food environment so that unhealthy foods are the cheapest, most ubiquitous, heavily marketed, [most] difficult to resist and socially acceptable – as a result, the [world’s] health has gone down the toilet.”

The lack of political will to address this reflects the size of the corporations involved. “It’s just so powerful and influential, bigger than the tobacco industry,” she says.

Is Jacka gearing up to be the Erin Brockovich figure who takes them on? “That would be my life’s dream.”

With half of all mental-health disorders setting in by age 14, the importance of diet is especially relevant to young people – but as in the UK and US, Australian teenagers are eating multiple servings of junk foods every day, says Jacka: “This is not an occasional biccie with your tea.”

Messages about obesity and health problems in a distant, abstract future do not seem to be influencing people’s eating behaviours, but they might act on the knowledge that these same foods could be making them unhappy, says Jacka. “It’s much more in your face: ‘It’s going to affect me now.’”

Gut Health and Sleep?

Here is a terrific article (as always) from Scott Anderson – author of one of my favorite books about the microbiome and mood (The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection) – see the original article here and my highlights below…

Problems Sleeping? Look to Your Gut 

How the bacteria in your gut manipulate your sleep patterns.

Your gut is linked to your brain in surprising ways, and you may be losing sleep over it. Research into the gut-brain axis reveals that, amazingly, microbes in your gut can affect your mood—and along with that, your sleep patterns. Sleep disorders and depression are common among people with gut problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This association goes both ways: your gut can affect—or be affected by—your mood and sleep patterns.

The idea that your brain can affect your gut seems to imply that you could treat gut problems with psychiatry, which is nutty. Except that it seems to work. Research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy, which is aimed at the mind, can ease symptoms of IBS—including sleeplessness.[1] What an unexpected way to treat gut problems! Problems with sleep, mood and gut turn out to be inextricably bound together.

Microbes can secrete dozens of human neuroactive chemicals, which gives them a disturbing amount of power over our brain. They can send messages slowly through the endocrine system, somewhat faster through the immune system, and at lightning speed through the vagus nerve. A well-balanced microbiota is a wonderfully silent partner, but a poorly balanced one will end up with a few dominant “bully” species that can make a lot of fuss.

These top dogs, without counterbalancing microbes, tend to act as disease-causing pathogens. When they don’t get what they want, they can release neurotoxins like ammonia that affect sleep, stress, and brain function in general.[2]

The Cycles of Life

All living things have chemical reactions that cycle over and over again. Some, like the Krebs cycle you vaguely remember from high school, are fast, converting glucose to energy at a madcap pace. Others, like the circadian cycle, take 24 hours. The name circadian means “about a day,” and even bacteria display these leisurely daily oscillations.

It affects us from early on. Without circadian rhythms, we might just be blobs. Dr. Ann Kiessling of the Bedford Research Institute, which investigates stem cell therapies, says:

“Stem cells may especially need circadian signals to differentiate into specific cell types, such as neurons or bone marrow. The first evidence of circadian oscillator proteins is at the late 2-cell stage in mice, when at least 10% of stem cells are expressing circadian oscillator proteins, but not synchronized. Then as the cells differentiate, they start to synchronize. We don’t know what triggers that, but differentiation and synchronization seem to be coupled.”

Each cell in your body runs a tiny version of the circadian clock and needs to cooperate with all its neighbors, so it’s important for them to continuously synch up. In animals, the brain controls this daily cycle with a sleepy-time chemical called melatonin, which builds up when it gets dark at night to make you sleepy and drops in the morning to wake you up.

This internal clock wants to synchronize with daylight, explaining why traveling across time zones, artificial lights, and cloudy climates all mess with your rhythms. When your body’s rhythm is disrupted, your microbiota also gets disrupted, which can boost the numbers of poor team players like Candida at the expense of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.[3] That helps to explain why shift workers have higher rates of gut issues, sleep problems and depression.

You can mess up your daily rhythm by simply keeping your lights on in the evening. It’s not a small effect: Evening light can delay the release of melatonin by up to two hours.

Rodent Studies

A study by Rob Knight and colleagues in 2017 looked at what stress does to sleep and gut health in rats. Rats that were stressed by tail shocks had disruptions in their sleep patterns. Their gut microbiota also changed: it lost diversity. A few species dominated their gut microbes, and that loss of balance was unhealthy. When they gave the rats a prebiotic, their gut microbiota became more diverse and contained more probiotic and psychobiotic species like Lactobacillus rhamnosus. They also slept better. They had better REM and non-REM sleep.[4]

A healthy microbiota produces butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that is the preferred fuel for the cells lining the gut. That maintains the proper permeability to absorb nutrients and yet keep out microbes. Studies with both mice and rats show that butyrate improves sleep.[5]

You may not be getting tail shocks, but your boss may be kicking your butt all day. That, too, can mess up your sleep.

What Can You Do?

  • Don’t eat late at night. It screws up your microbial circadian clocks, which are trying to wind down for the night. It can also encourage gastric reflux.
  • Eat more fiber. Fast foods are delicious, but most of them have sacrificed the fiber for the flavor. Fiber supports beneficial bacteria that produce healing and nurturing chemicals. Fibrous foods include artichokes, asparagus, onions, beans, leafy greens and most non-starchy veggies.
  • Try a prebiotic supplement. Although the supplement industry is poorly regulated, many prebiotics have been shown to work in human subjects. They have tongue-tangling names like fructo-oligosaccharide and galacto-oligosaccharide. Mercifully, these are typically shortened to acronyms like FOS and GOS.
  • Eat a wide variety of foods. A repetitive diet with just a few food groups will not help you maintain a diverse—ergo healthy—microbiota.
  • For dessert, try strawberries or cherries, which contain melatonin and may encourage drowsiness.
  • Adjust your lights. We keep them on until late at night, and it tricks your body into thinking it’s still daylight. Blue light is especially potent for keeping you alert when you should be settling down for the night. In the morning, try to get as much sunshine as possible. That ensures your circadian clock gets started for the day and makes bedtime come earlier.
  • Stay young. As you age, your melatonin levels fall. Fortunately, you can buy melatonin supplements, which have been shown to help people over 55 to fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Take it about an hour before sleep. Melatonin also increases healthy diversity in your gut microbes.[6] It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you are considering melatonin for long-term use.

Your microbiota responds to your own biological clock, and your own biological clock responds to your microbiota. Feedback loops like this are found throughout all of biology and they can be nasty. However, by improving your microbiota and synching it to normal cycles, you can start to sleep better. That, in turn, will further balance your microbiota, turning a vicious cycle into a virtuous one. Before you know it, you could be snoozing like a baby.

References

[1] Kinsinger, Sarah W. “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Current Insights.” Psychology Research and Behavior Management 10 (July 19, 2017): 231–37.

[2] Galland, Leo. “The Gut Microbiome and the Brain.” Journal of Medicinal Food 17, no. 12 (December 1, 2014): 1261–72.

[3] Li, Yuanyuan, Yanli Hao, Fang Fan, and Bin Zhang. “The Role of Microbiome in Insomnia, Circadian Disturbance and Depression.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 9 (December 5, 2018).

[4] Thompson, Robert S., Rachel Roller, Agnieszka Mika, Benjamin N. Greenwood, Rob Knight, Maciej Chichlowski, Brian M. Berg, and Monika Fleshner. “Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractions Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 10 (January 10, 2017).

[5] Szentirmai, Éva, Nicklaus S. Millican, Ashley R. Massie, and Levente Kapás. “Butyrate, a Metabolite of Intestinal Bacteria, Enhances Sleep.” Scientific Reports 9, no. 1 (May 7, 2019): 7035.

[6] Yin, Jie, Yuying Li, Hui Han, Shuai Chen, Jing Gao, Gang Liu, Xin Wu, et al. “Melatonin Reprogramming of Gut Microbiota Improves Lipid Dysmetabolism in High-Fat Diet-Fed Mice.” Journal of Pineal Research 65, no. 4 (November 2018): e12524.

Vaccine for Mental Wellness?

Great article in Vice on July 15, 2019 by Shayla Love – see the original here and my highlights below…

The Vaccine That Could Prevent Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

As mental health disorders run rampant, scientists are trying to make an immunization from bacteria that could help.

In 1989, University of Cambridge psychiatrist Ed Bullmore, then a physician-in-training, examined a woman unable to walk from destroyed collagen and bone in her knees. That, plus painfully swollen joints in her hands, indicated rheumatoid arthritis—an inflammatory disease. After Bullmore asked the usual questions to reach the diagnosis, he inquired about something else: how she was feeling emotionally.

“Over the course of the next 10 minutes or so, she quietly but clearly told me that she had very low levels of energy, nothing gave her pleasure anymore, her sleep was disturbed, and she was preoccupied by pessimistic and guilty thoughts,” he wrote in a 2018 Medium essay.

When he told his supervisor, the senior doctor didn’t find it very exciting. Having a chronic inflammatory disease would likely make anyone depressed, he said. “It did not occur to either of us that it might originate in the body,” Bullmore wrote. “That Mrs. P might be depressed, not because she knew she was inflamed, but simply because she was inflamed.”

Inflammation is a natural and necessary function of the immune system. It’s what happens when your body activates an army of different molecules to protect itself from an outside threat—say, to fend off a virus or heal a wound. But when inflammation persists, it can wreak havoc. Autoimmune and inflammatory disorders like arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, and allergies happen when the body’s immune system doesn’t know when to call back the troops.

These disorders of chronic inflammation are steadily increasing. This is troubling not only because they are a leading cause of death, but because, as in the case of Mrs. P, there’s an association between these disorders and mental health issues, which are also on the rise.

In the past two decades, scientists have begun to realize that the link isn’t merely a byproduct of living with a difficult disease. Researchers—like Bullmore, who wrote a book called The Inflamed Mind—have been uncovering a more meaningful and sinister connection between inflammation and mental health. Inflammation seems to directly cause mental health issues, while at the same time, stress and mental health issues themselves provoke inflammation—creating a dangerous feedback loop.

One single risk factor will never explain the entirety of psychiatric problems, wrote Chuck Raison, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a special report on the topic in Psychiatric Times. But “inflammation turned out to be a common denominator and likely risk factor for every manner of psychiatric disturbance, from schizophrenia to obsessive compulsive disorder, from mania to depression,” he wrote.

Christopher Lowry, a behavioral neuro-endocrinologist at University of Colorado Boulder, envisions a future where an immunization could be given to protect against inflammation-caused mental health disturbances. In a series of studies over the past decade, Lowry and his collaborators have shown in animal models that a particular soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae (or M. vaccae), can reduce inflammation and the troubling behavioral symptoms that come with it.

Inflammation seems to cause mental health issues, and mental health issues themselves provoke inflammation, creating a dangerous feedback loop.

One reason runaway inflammation happens is that the immune system has lost its way. A surprising potential explanation for why this can happen is emerging: Our immune systems could be missing exposure to some crucial things that aid in its healthy development: bacteria and viruses, and parasitic worms—the very things it is designed to ward off. The loss of exposure to these microbial organisms due to our modern diets, medications, and lifestyles could be producing naive and untrained immune systems that have a tendency to go haywire.

The immune system can’t fire off like a loose cannon at every foreign cell, it has to decide when something is a threat and when it’s not. That’s why humans and other mammals have both an innate and an adaptive immune system, said Graham Rook, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at University College London. The latter learns what to target and when, but to do so, it needs data.

“It’s is like a computer,” Rook said. “The question is, where does the data come from? It comes in part from the microbiota, or the organisms in the gut. It also comes from outside infection and other microbes we are exposed to, especially in early life.”

As humans moved to live in urban environments, they’ve lost exposure to a wide variety of microorganism that Rook calls “old friends.” Our diminishing interaction with certain bacteria could be creating an immune system that’s a bit trigger-happy.

This concept is more widely known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that the sterility of modern life is leading to health issues. Rook doesn’t like this term. He thinks it’s not expansive enough to include all the ways we’re missing microbial interactions. (And that it glosses over how we need hygiene to prevent spreading pathogenic diseases, especially in tightly packed urban environments.) The actual problem is on a larger societal scale, Rook said. It does stem from cleaner living conditions and food, but also an overuse of antibiotics, cesarean sections, the radical changes in the foods we eat, the loss of old infections (like TB, hepatitis A, helicobacter pylori, and parasitic worms), and from not coming into contact with organisms that live off dead and decaying matter found in the mud and soil.

A surprising potential explanation for runaway inflammation: Our immune systems could be missing exposure to enough bacteria, viruses, and parasitic worms.

Soil bacteria’s effects on inflammation are easily seen in a phenomenon called the “farm effect.” Studies show that interacting with the land and being around farm animals is protective against inflammatory conditions like asthma and allergies. For children who don’t live on farms, simply having pets or coming into contact with cats and dogs can similarly lower the risk of allergies. Rook thinks the farm effect can be explained by the animals bringing in microbial life on dirty paws and bodies, which then helps to train the immune system.

A recent study led by Stefan Reber at the University of Ulm in Germany revealed a connection between good emotional health and growing up around dirt. Forty men were brought to the lab and put through a stress test, where they had to give a speech in front of steely-faced scientists in white coats. The ones from rural environments reported feeling stressed, but it was the ones who grew up in cities who had a massively exaggerated inflammatory response. Their inflammation lasted for the whole length of the study.

“There’s something out there, something that we need to meet in the earth,” Rook said.

In the 1970s, Rook and an immunologist, John Stanford, pulled M. vaccae out from the mud near Lake Kyoga in Uganda. They were trying to figure out why vaccinations for leprosy were more effective in certain countries when they came across M. vaccae—a bacteria closely related to leprosy that was possibly boosting the effect of the vaccine.

“Later, because John was a good immunologist, he realized that this bacterium had the ability to induce something that we call immuno-regulation,” Lowry said.

Other researchers tried to see if M. vaccae’s effects on the immune system could be harnessed. In 2004, an oncologist in the U.K. tried giving patients with inoperable lung cancer M. vaccae alongside chemotherapy to see if it would improve survival rates. The bacteria didn’t help people live longer, but intriguingly, it improved their quality of life. They had increased levels of emotional health, cognitive functions, and decreased pain.

People who had higher levels of inflammation were more likely to be depressed about 12 years later.

Lowry first injected mice with M. vaccae shortly after, in 2007. He saw increases in serotonin metabolism in the prefrontal cortex, a neurotransmitter and part of the brain linked with mood and personality. Another study in mice found that when the animals were put with a large aggressive male, the ones injected with M. vaccae behaved less anxiously, and were less likely to develop inflammatory issues like colitis. In a more recent study in rats, Lowry and his colleagues found that animals that had been given M. vaccae had faster fear extinction—they were able to get over something they had been conditioned to be afraid of more quickly.

“That’s what individuals with anxiety or PTSD can’t do, is extinguish fear,” Lowry said. “Even in safe environments.”

With more research, Lowry could see M. vaccae being put to use in early life, along with the other routine immunizations, as an injection. It could teach the immune systems to regulate itself, or reduce inflammation in those at high risk for depression or PTSD. It could even be given as a booster shortly after someone experiences a trauma—after going through something disturbing or violent, someone could be treated with M. vaccae to prevent PTSD.

Lowry had been cautious about his lab’s findings, especially since the team had mostly done experiments in animals. But simultaneously, evidence continued to mount in humans that matched their findings—that inflammation wasn’t just associated with mental health disorders, but was causing them.

By measuring levels of inflammatory molecules in blood, researchers were finding they could predict mental health issues later. In 2010, people working in U.K. government offices who had higher levels of inflammation were more likely to be depressed about 12 years later. In 2014, another U.K. study looked at 15,000 children around 9 years old and found that those who were not depressed but showed raised inflammation were more likely to be depressed a decade later. And a study from 2014 done by the U.S. Marines found the percentage of soldiers who got PTSD was greater in those who had raised levels of inflammatory molecules in their blood before they went to combat.

“In other words, if you have a propensity for high inflammatory function, then that in fact is the deciding factor on whether or not the individual goes on to develop these anxiety and depressive-like syndromes,” Lowry said.

Chronic inflammation affects our whole bodies, including the brain. Inflammation can interfere with the way the brain functions, altering neurotransmitters to the behavior of synapses, the connections between neurons. The brain also has its own immune system which, when overly active, can lead to persistent neuro-inflammation. M. vaccae could stop the neuro-inflammatory response of the brain’s immune cells in rats, and the associated negative behavioral changes that came along with it.

In May of this year, Lowry, Rook and others found a single molecule from M. vaccae that has anti-inflammatory effects in human and mouse cells. It’s a lipid—a fat molecule—with a very specific chemical shape. Mammals can’t make it.

In mice, the molecule binds to a receptor that triggers a shutting off of various inflammatory processes. This likely evolved so that a disease-causing bacteria could turn off a host’s immune system and take over. But in non-threatening bacteria, it’s actually a form of ecological service, Lowry said, helping our immune systems cool off instead of running on overdrive all the time.

Currently, Lowry is doing a clinical trial in humans, but not with M. vaccae, because he hasn’t yet gotten FDA permission to do that. He’s using another commercially available probiotic that has been shown to have immuno-regulatory effects. His team is also working towards a trial with M. vaccae, but in the meantime, they’re seeing if any other bacteria could work just as well.

John Cryan, a neuroscientist at the University College Cork in Ireland, said that this is just one way our futures will likely involve microbes as medicine for mental health. Bacteria help regulate our immune system, but also produce important molecules that have more direct interactions with our brain. A study of more than 1,000 people from February found that people with depression had reductions in specific bacteria that were producing key chemicals. Knowing who has what microbial deficit—like a vitamin deficiency—could help people for whom other drugs aren’t working.

Not every case of depression is caused by inflammation. But figuring out the cases where inflammation is playing an overwhelming role can bring us closer to understanding the best treatment options, said Jane Foster, a neuroscientist at McMaster University who studies the immune system.

Regardless of what happens next, the causal role of inflammation and mental health issues forces us to rethink the underlying cause of mental health disorders. The changing environments in which we live could be altering the ways our bodies function and dramatically affecting the way we feel. This brings us a long way from what used to be a prevailing dogma: that the mind and body are separate, and so are their illnesses.

To Cryan, these kinds of microbial approaches are reason for optimism. “Unlike our genomes, which we can’t do much about except blame our parents and grandparents, our microbiomes are potentially modifiable,” he said. “That gives us a little bit more, and also gives the individual more agency over their own health.”