GI Tract Inflammation May Predict Bipolar Disorder

Posted on September 10th, 2014

GI Tract Inflammation May Predict Bipolar Disorder The line between mental and physical health is becoming less clear. Recent studies have shown a connection between clinical depression and systemic inflammation.

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine examined the inflammation problems that may predict the onset of bipolar disorder. The findings were particularly helpful for identifying gastrointestinal (GI) tract problems connected with patients recently experiencing psychotic episodes. Inflammation in the GI tract may indicate the need for dietary adjustments and anti-inflammatory treatments for some patients. 

Bipolar disorder is identified by cyclical patterns related to activity and energy levels as well as mood. Patients can swing from extreme lows, or depressive episodes, to hypomania or mania. 

The researchers measured the levels of a GI inflammation marker called anti-Saccharmyces cerevisiae antibodies (ASCA). Elevated levels of the antibodies were found to increase the likelihood of bipolar disorder by four times. This finding was constant even when the researchers controlled the findings for medications the subjects were taking. 

Previous research has already demonstrated a connection between Crohn’s disease and elevated levels of ASCA. 

The researchers recruited 264 patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Thirty-eight of the participants reported a recent psychotic episode. ASCA measurements in the patients were correlated strongly with immunoglobulin G, an antibody against cow milk caseins and wheat gluten. 

The link was particularly pronounced in those patients with bipolar disorder that also indicated that they experienced GI symptoms like gastroesophageal reflux disease. 

A growing number of theories have suggested a relationship between digestion and brain processes. According to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Emily Severence, Ph.D., a byproduct of gluten and casein digestion called exorphins may affect the brain. 

The researchers also looked at correlations between ASCA levels and non-food-related antigens, including measles. The researchers found significant correlations in patients with bipolar disorder that had recently experienced an initial episode of psychosis

While the researchers note that the findings require added research and testing on a larger sample size, the results clearly demonstrate a connection between inflammation and the early stages of development of bipolar disorder. 

The findings could have an immediate impact, with the researchers recommending those with bipolar disorder may be at a high risk for developing GI problems. Treatment could include dietary changes and an examination of anti-inflammatory agents for their effects on mental health symptoms.

Further research may include the testing of these types of treatments to see how they impact the symptoms experienced by those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A larger sample size may also be necessary to determine the impact that treatment can have on symptoms.

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