Taking steps to take care of your mental health and boost your mood could also result in a healthier gut, new research suggests.
A team of scientists at King’s College London has found that some mood-boosting interventions, including psychological therapy and antidepressants, were linked to significantly lower levels of inflammation in people who had inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
It suggests that these mental health treatments can be offered as an “alternative treatment for IBD that is both effective and low-cost”.
IBD describes two autoimmune gastrointestinal conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The conditions cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in patients who suffer from them.
It is estimated that more than 500,000 people of all ages suffer from IBD in the UK. It is a lifelong condition with no cure, and is often debilitating, with major implications for the patient’s mental health and wellbeing.
The study, published in eBiomedicine, part of The Lancet, is believed to be the first to look into the relationship between mood interventions and levels of IBD biomarkers.
The researchers at King’s College analysed more than 15,000 studies on inflammatory biomarkers that are specific indicators of IBD. These biomarkers are found in the body and can indicate areas and types of inflammation.
They also reviewed and analysed data from 28 trials involving more than 1,700 participants to determine whether the interventions had any effect on inflammation levels in IBD.
Nastasha Seaton, first author of the study and PhD student at King’s, said in a statement: “IBD is a distressing condition and current medication that reduces inflammation is expensive and can have side effects.
“Our study showed that interventions that treat mental health reduce levels of inflammation in the body. This indicates that mood interventions could be a valuable tool in our approach to help those with IBD.”
According to the researchers, psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction showed the best outcomes on inflammation in IBD.
This is compared to antidepressants and exercise interventions. The treatments that had a larger positive effect on mood resulted in a greater effect to reduce inflammatory biomarkers.
Professor Valeria Mondelli, Clinical Professor of Psychoneuroimmunology at King’s, said: “We know stress-related feelings can increase inflammation and the findings suggest that by improving mood we can reduce this type of inflammation.
“This adds to the growing body of research demonstrating the role of inflammation on mental health and suggests that interventions working to improve mood could also have direct physical effects on levels of inflammation.”
Professor Mondelli said that further research needs to be conducted, but she appeared to refer to the link between gut health and our brains, which is a relatively new area of research.
Some studies have suggested that gut health may play a role in specific mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. This link is known as the gut-brain axis, which scientists believe comprise of three pathways - the vagus nerve pathway, the immunoregulatory pathway, and the neuroendocrine pathway.
All three pathways show how gut microbes interact with the body and may influence the production of chemicals within the body or cells that have an impact on how we feel.
The researchers at King’s pointed out that medications for treating inflammation in IBD patients are “very costly” compared to psychological therapies.
Professor Rona Moss-Morris, senior author of the study and Professor Psychology as Applied to Medicine at King’s, added: “Integrated mental health support alongside pharmacological treatments may offer a more holistic approach to IBD care, potentially leading to reduced disease and healthcare costs.
“Given this, including psychological interventions, such as cost-effective digital interventions, within IBD management might reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medication, resulting in an overall cost benefit.”
Read more about gut health:
Gut health: Foods to eat and avoid to improve your wellbeing (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)
How your gut health affects your mental health (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
How to eat 30 plants a week to boost gut health, according to Tim Spector (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)