Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Alleviates PTSD Symptoms, Study Suggests

While researchers said more work needs to be done, they believe they are closer to being able to provide dietary recommendations for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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By Simon Roots
Oct. 31, 2023 17:47 UTC

A study con­ducted by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has shed new light on the intri­cate rela­tion­ship between post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD), dietary pat­terns and the gut micro­biome.

The study, pub­lished in Nature Mental Health, uncov­ered a notable con­nec­tion between adher­ence to a Mediterranean diet and a reduc­tion in PTSD symp­toms.

While fur­ther research is needed, we are closer to being able to pro­vide dietary rec­om­men­da­tions for PTSD pre­ven­tion or ame­lio­ra­tion.- Yang-Yu Liu, resarcher, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

PTSD is a fear-based men­tal health con­di­tion that can develop in indi­vid­u­als exposed to dis­tress­ing and trau­matic sit­u­a­tions, includ­ing severe injury, the threat of death or acts of vio­lence.

Individuals who have PTSD not only con­tend with its imme­di­ate psy­cho­log­i­cal effects but also face an increased risk of chronic health con­di­tions such as coro­nary heart dis­ease, stroke, dia­betes, autoim­mune dis­or­ders and even pre­ma­ture death.

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Recognizing the role of diet and the gut micro­biome in the con­text of PTSD has the poten­tial to yield rec­om­men­da­tions and out­comes that ben­e­fit those affected by the dis­or­der.

Co-author Yang-Yu Liu, from the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, high­lighted the intrigu­ing rela­tion­ship between the human gut micro­biome and the brain.

Through our study, we exam­ined how fac­tors like diet are asso­ci­ated with PTSD symp­toms,” she said. While fur­ther research is needed, we are closer to being able to pro­vide dietary rec­om­men­da­tions for PTSD pre­ven­tion or ame­lio­ra­tion.”

The human gut micro­biome is an active hub of meta­bolic activ­ity. Within the colon, bac­te­ria play a piv­otal role in fer­ment­ing and digest­ing var­i­ous com­po­nents, includ­ing car­bo­hy­drates, pro­tein and lipids from the host and the diet. These processes gen­er­ate metabo­lites that can have either ben­e­fi­cial or detri­men­tal effects on health.

For exam­ple, the fer­men­ta­tion of car­bo­hy­drates pro­duces short-chain fatty acids, mainly acetate, pro­pi­onate, and butyrate.

These com­pounds offer numer­ous health ben­e­fits, such as pro­vid­ing energy for colon cells, enhanc­ing ion absorp­tion, pos­sess­ing anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties and reg­u­lat­ing sero­tonin pro­duc­tion while influ­enc­ing the num­ber of ente­rochro­maf­fin cells.

Remarkably, butyrate has exhib­ited anti­de­pres­sant-like effects in mice, sur­pass­ing the effects of flu­ox­e­tine, a com­mon ingre­di­ent in many anti­de­pres­sants.

Furthermore, com­men­sal bac­te­ria can pro­duce neu­ro­trans­mit­ters with neu­roac­tive prop­er­ties, includ­ing GABA, sero­tonin and dopamine. These neu­ro­trans­mit­ters can­not cross the blood-brain bar­rier but may stim­u­late intesti­nal epithe­lial cells to release mol­e­cules that, in turn, mod­u­late neural sig­nal­ing. This com­plex inter­play can influ­ence brain func­tions and behav­ior.

Although exten­sive research has high­lighted the gut micro­bio­me’s influ­ence on emo­tional devel­op­ment and response, the link between the micro­biome and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der was largely unex­plored.

The researchers under­scored the sig­nif­i­cance of explor­ing the gut-brain axis, as it pro­vides insights into the inter­de­pen­dence of men­tal and phys­i­cal health.

Their find­ings sug­gest that the rela­tion­ship between PTSD and the human gut micro­biome presents a promis­ing avenue for research, offer­ing the poten­tial for rec­om­men­da­tions to alle­vi­ate the down­stream neg­a­tive health con­se­quences of PTSD.

See Also:Mediterranean Diet Changes Gut Microbiome, Improves Health in Seniors

To inves­ti­gate this rela­tion­ship, the team col­lected data from 191 par­tic­i­pants in sub-stud­ies of the Nurses’ Health Study-II, which encom­passed the Mind-Body Study and the PTSD sub-study.

Participants were cat­e­go­rized into three groups: those with prob­a­ble PTSD, those who had expe­ri­enced trauma with­out devel­op­ing PTSD and those with no his­tory of trauma expo­sure.


Each par­tic­i­pant pro­vided two sets of four stool sam­ples: one at the study’s com­mence­ment and another six months later. This approach enabled the col­lec­tion of micro­bial DNA data and con­fir­ma­tion of the sta­bil­ity of each par­tic­i­pan­t’s gut micro­biome through­out the six months.

The researchers then ana­lyzed the asso­ci­a­tions between the micro­bio­me’s over­all struc­ture and var­i­ous host fac­tors. These fac­tors included PTSD symp­toms, age, body mass index (BMI), and dietary infor­ma­tion.

Through this eval­u­a­tion, the researchers iden­ti­fied sev­eral host fac­tors linked to the micro­biome struc­ture, such as BMI, depres­sion and the use of anti­de­pres­sants.

Subsequently, the team explored the con­nec­tion between avail­able dietary infor­ma­tion and PTSD symp­toms. Their find­ings revealed that par­tic­i­pants adher­ing to a Mediterranean diet expe­ri­enced fewer PTSD symp­toms.

Notably, the con­sump­tion of red and processed meats, mostly absent from the Mediterranean diet, exhib­ited a pos­i­tive asso­ci­a­tion with the sever­ity of PTSD symp­toms. In con­trast, the con­sump­tion of plant-based foods neg­a­tively cor­re­lated with these symp­toms.

The researchers exam­ined the link between PTSD symp­toms and gut micro­biome sig­na­tures to iden­tify poten­tial species that could pro­tect against PTSD. Eubacterium eli­gens emerged as the most likely pro­tec­tive species for the dis­or­der.

They con­cluded that E. eli­gens was pos­i­tively asso­ci­ated with com­po­nents of the Mediterranean diet, such as veg­eta­bles, fruits, and fish while dis­play­ing a neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tion with red and processed meat con­sump­tion. E. eli­gens has pre­vi­ously been linked to nut con­sump­tion and veg­e­tar­ian diets.

While the study offers valu­able insights, the authors acknowl­edge cer­tain lim­i­ta­tions, such as the use of a short screen­ing scale for PTSD instead of a for­mal clin­i­cal diag­no­sis. Nevertheless, the results pro­vide a foun­da­tion for future research endeav­ors.

These include inves­ti­ga­tions into other men­tal health dis­or­ders and dietary inter­ven­tions, intend­ing to enhance rec­om­men­da­tions for alle­vi­at­ing or pre­vent­ing symp­toms asso­ci­ated with these con­di­tions.


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