Experts say the study shows we could soon treat mental health naturally. PICTURE: Supplied

Experts say the study shows we could soon treat mental health naturally.

We know it's good for digestion, clear skin and glossy hair. But a new study has found yogurt could also treat depression. The creamy breakfast snack contains lactobacillus, a probiotic bacteria found in live-cultures yoghurt.

Experiments have shown that the amount of Lactobacillus in the gut affects the level of a metabolite in the blood called kynurenine, which has been shown to drive depression.
When Lactobacillus was diminished in the gut, the levels of kynurenine went up and depression symptoms set in.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine claim the findings show our growing understanding of the gut microbiome could allow us to treat mental health naturally, doing away with toxic drugs. 'The big hope for this kind of research is that we won't need to bother with complex drugs and side effects when we can just play with the microbiome,' explained lead researcher Dr Alban Gaultier. 'It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health - and your mood.'

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions worldwide, Dr Gaultier noted. 'It's a huge problem and the treatments are not very good, because they come with huge side effects,' he said.

The role of the gut microbiome - the bacteria that live inside us - has been of tremendous interest to researchers studying depression and other health conditions, both mental and physical. Dr Gaultier, of the UVA Department of Neuroscience and its Centre for Brain Immunology and Glia, set out to see if he could find a concrete link between depression and gut health.

When you're stressed, you increase your chance of being depressed, and that's been known for a long, long time,' he said. 'So the question that we wanted to ask is, does the microbiome participate in depression?' The answer appears to be yes.

'A single strain of Lactobacillus,' Dr Gaultier said, 'is able to influence mood. 'He and his team then went on to determine the mechanism by which Lactobacillus influences depression.
'This is the most consistent change we've seen across different experiments and different settings we call microbiome profiles,' explained researcher Dr Ioana Marin, a graduate student.

The researchers warned that yogurt should not yet be seen as a treatment alone. While there is no harm in people with depression eating yoghurt, people receiving treatment for depression should not stop taking their medications without consulting their physicians.

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