Antibiotic treatments may make us more prone to negative emotions

Overview: Recent antibiotic use is impacting the way people pay attention to negative facial expressions. Findings shed light on how antibiotic use may increase the risk of depression.

Source: Songs University

People who have taken antibiotics in the past three months pay more attention to negative facial expressions, according to research by postdoc Katerina Johnson and assistant professor Laura Steenbergen. This may explain how antibiotics increase the risk of developing depression.

The use of antibiotics has a negative effect on the microbial community in the gut, previous research has shown. That can then have consequences for the rest of our health, Johnson explains. “We know that the gut microbiome in animals and humans not only affects physical health, but also interacts with the brain, influencing emotions and cognition.”

Johnson and Steenbergen investigated whether there are differences in the way people process emotional stimuli, depending on whether they have recently taken a course of antibiotics or not.

The participants were young, otherwise healthy college students who had been treated for relatively minor ailments. The participants had recovered from their infection when they were recruited into the study.

The study found that those who had taken antibiotics paid more attention to negative facial expressions. They especially paid more attention to sad facial expressions.

Steenbergen: “It is a commonly used method in psychology to measure how much attention people pay to different emotional expressions.

The use of antibiotics has a negative effect on the microbial community in the gut, previous research has shown. Image is in the public domain

“This allows us to detect subtle changes in the way people process emotional stimuli. We know that people who pay more attention to negative emotions have a higher risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.”

Increased risk of depression

Previous studies have shown that even one course of antibiotics can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Steenbergen adds: “In addition to the disruption of the microbiome by antibiotics, we also know that inflammation caused by an infection can affect the brain itself.

“However, studies have shown that people who have an infection treated with antifungal or antiviral drugs are not at such an increased risk of depression. This suggests that antibiotics may be a causal factor in the relationship with negative mood.

“In addition, we know from animal studies that antibiotics can cause symptoms of depression.”

Johnson concluded: “This association between antibiotic treatment and increased negative prejudice demonstrates the strong relationship between physical and mental health. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed and are important for treating bacterial infections.

“Therefore, our findings highlight the need to further investigate their potential psychological effects, especially in light of their known impact on the microbiome.”

About this pharmacology and mood research news

Author: press office
Source: university of Leiden
Contact: Press information – Leiden University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Open access.
“Do Ordinary Antibiotic Treatments Affect Emotional Processing?” by Katerina V.-A. Johnson et al. Physiology and Behavior

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Do common antibiotic treatments affect emotional processing?

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world, but research in recent years has shown that they can have a detrimental effect on the human microbiome, with health implications. The community of microorganisms living in the gut has been shown to regulate physiological and neural processes.

Because studies in both humans and animal models have shown that the gut microbiome can influence the brain, as well as affect emotion and cognition, here we investigate whether antibiotic treatment is associated with changes in emotional processing and mood using a between-subject design in 105 young, healthy subjects. adult volunteers, using both psychological tests and questionnaires.

Since both the immune system and vagal signaling can mediate the microbiome-gut-brain axis, we also assess whether there is any evidence of such changes in participant physiology.

We find that individuals who have taken antibiotics in the past three months show a stronger emotional preference for sadness and have a higher heart rate on a physiological level (although this does not mediate the relationship with negative bias).

In any case, while we cannot rule out a possible role of a previous infection, our findings are highly relevant in light of research showing that antibiotics are associated with increased susceptibility to depression and anxiety.

Our results also have implications for reporting antibiotic use as an exclusion criterion in emotional processing and psychophysiology studies.

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