Stress May Alter Gut Bacteria to Hinder Immune System

By changing bacteria levels in gut, stress causes changes in physiological function, study finds

FRIDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have found that stress can alter the balance of bacteria that live in the intestine, leading to immune system problems.

Stress changes the composition, diversity and number of intestinal bacteria, said the team at Ohio State University. The communities of bacteria become less varied, and there are greater numbers of potentially harmful bacteria.

The study is published in the March issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

"These changes can have profound implications for physiological function," lead researcher Michael Bailey said in a journal news release. "When we reduced the number of bacteria in the intestines using antibiotics, we found that some of the effects of stress on the immune system were prevented. This suggests that not only does stress change the bacteria levels in the gut, but that these alterations can, in turn, impact our immunity."

Previous research has linked intestinal bacteria to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and asthma. Future studies need to determine whether changes in intestinal bacteria may explain why these conditions tend to become worse when people are under stress, the authors say.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about stress.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, news release, March 2011

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