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20th Feb 2024

Irish researchers make groundbreaking discovery in treatment for stress

Anna Martin

stress ireland

We’re all feeling the stress these days

Life is busy, it feels like we’re being pulled every which way and there are not enough hours in the day.

Incredibly though some scientists at University College Cork may have discovered a new way to treat stress – maybe due to a gut feeling?

Terrible jokes aside, the researchers think that this treatment can actually start with your gut.

The team from APC Microbiome Ireland, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre based at UCC has said that some viruses within our gut may play a key role in keeping the bad bacteria at bay in times of stress.

Although most people think of viruses as harmful, there are other viruses, known as bacteriophages, that infect bacteria, including pathogenic bacteria, and they can play a role in maintaining our health and well-being.

During their research, which they conducted on mice, they found the composition of bacteria in the gut changes with stress, and targeting these bacteria may alleviate stress, but, up to now, all the focus has been on bacteria.

More research is needed before a treatment becomes available

Speaking about their discovery Professor John Cryan of UCC said, “This important research is a step advancement in developing targeted virome (virus) therapies that reduce the effects of stress with safer therapeutic interventions, and points to the potential of further research on the dynamics of the microbiota-gut-brain axis to promote gut and brain health.”

This groundbreaking discovery comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in eight people live with a mental health disorder across the globe, with stress-related disorders like depression and anxiety being prevalent.

Professor Cryan and colleagues aimed to analyse how much these gut viruses related to stress and found for the first time that chronic stress led to changes in their composition.

Credit: Getty

The researchers said this supports increasing evidence that brain-gut interactions may play a key role in how stress is controlled and regulated. 

Gaining an understanding of this may lead to the development of alternative, new therapies for stress-related disorders.

Dr Nathaniel Ritz, the first author of the study, said, “Although bacteria in the gut has been the subject of growing research, the way the virome interacts with bacteria, and how they affect stress-related health and disease status, is largely unexplored.”

Though it is a step forward in treating what many people will have to deal with at least once in their lives, Professor Cryan said more research needs to be done on humans now before treatment becomes available.