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Rodent of the Week: Stomach problems early in life linked to depression

May 13, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • A study in rodents found a connection between stomach problems early in life and later depression.
A study in rodents found a connection between stomach problems early in… (Advanced Cell Technology,…)

The mind and the gut are tightly connected. Anyone who's had a stomach ache accompany a bout of nervousness can testify to the phenomenon. A study in rodents now suggests that digestive troubles early in life may even predispose people to developing anxiety and depression.

Previous studies have shown that people who have chronic stomach aches are more likely than other people to be anxious or depressed. In the new study, researchers at Stanford, UC San Francisco and the University of Kansas looked at whether the stomach ailments could causes mood disorders instead of what is presumed: that emotions cause stomach problems.

Researchers caused mild stomach irritation in 10-day-old rats for six days. When the behavior of the rats was assessed when they were 8 weeks to 10 weeks old, researchers found the rats with early stomach problems were much more likely to exhibit anxious and depressed behavior. They consumed less sugar water, swam less and preferred dark areas rather than light areas. They also had higher levels of several stress hormones.

The early stomach woes "might also be effecting the development of the central nervous system, and driving the animals to anxiety and depression," the senior author of the study, Pankaj Pasricha, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a news release. "It seems that when the rats are exposed to gastric irritation at the appropriate time there is signaling across the gut to the brain that permanently alters its function."

While most people probably wouldn't be permanently affected by passing stomach infections or pain, others may be genetically predisposed to develop long-lasting changes.

The study was published Thursday in the journal PLoS One.

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