If I was the head of a funding agency, and it was my job to determine which research projects to fund, I would have to choose studies on microbial influence on mental health. There is already a lot of current research on bacteria’s influence on our digestive health, and much is known about its influence on our immune system, but there has been fairly little investigation into the microbial influence neurologically. In the future, this research could show that treating certain microbes within our bodies could alleviate some mental health problems. Maybe this could even lead to procedures like microbial or fecal transplants to alleviate conditions. This could be a stark shift from the use of pharmaceuticals to treat mental illness, therefore I believe that this would be a worthwhile pursuit.
A few non-infectious diseases that are influenced by microbes include:
- Crohn’s Disease,
- Diabetes Mellitus,
- Anxiety Dsiorders,
- Depressive disorders,
- Atopic Dermatitis (eczema),
- Liver Disease,
- Gastritis and peptic ulcer disease,
- and certain cancers.
In Writing Exercise #1, the examples that I came up with were Chronic liver disease, cervical cancer, chronic gastritis and peptic ulcers, lymphoma, asthma, and Diabetes. While I restated many of these diseases and conditions again, this time it was much easier to think of them. I remember at the beginning of the term having to look at multiple sources before coming up with this list, and even then being really unsure how they were caused by microbes. Today, this list came very natural and I would feel much more comfortable explaining the connections between the disease and how microbes contribute to the pathology.
This term I learned so much about how microbes influence our health, and I think that it will help me in the future as I embark on a career in the medical field. This class has given me a better understanding about the plethora of ways that microbes influence our health beyond their infectious qualities. As a future physician, the things that I learned in this class could influence how I choose to treat certain conditions, including not prescribing antibiotics as often or limiting cesarean sections to situations where they are deemed medically necessary.
- When discussing whether or not experiments can detect differences that matter, it is crucial to look at the results of the experiment and think about them critically. In a statistics class I once took, my professor presented data that about commute times by route taken. The data showed that there was a statistically significant difference in the time between each route, but when further analyzing it, the data actually showed that the time difference was less than twenty seconds. He cautioned us that while data may be significant, it also may just be pointless.
- When considering whether the study shows correlation or causation, you must consider how the data was collected and whether other variables were controlled for. If they were not, it is not accurate to say that it is causation.
- When discussing the mechanism of relationship, Hanage proposes returning to a reductionist approach. Often, it is necessary to look at the big picture, but here it is important to pinpoint little details in order to determined the true nature of the relationship between findings.
- When thinking about how experiments reflect reality, it is important to consider the findings within the bigger picture. What are the real consequences of the work, and how could they potentially be expanded upon to further the field in which they were presented and beyond. I think that this is the most important of the five questions, because without real world application, many findings are not useful.
- When considering whether anything else could explain the results, it is necessary to look at the experimental design and think about whether or not any confounding variables exist.
The microbes inhabiting our bodies have a profound influence on our physical health, but they are also highly involved in our mental health. An obvious influence is that bacteria can often make humans ill, which then can cause health anxiety, and in some cases, depression. However, there is also evidence that microbes can alter personality in mice. Mice kept in germ-free environments tended to be more hyperactive and daring than mice with more developed microbiota. Additionally, there has been a correlation between autism development and altered microbiomes. The behaviors of a certain subsection of mice very much mimicked those seen in autistic humans, and the imbalances seen in their gut microbiomes could potentially be a cause of their behavioral symptoms. Furthermore, it appears that gut microbiota communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which ultimately alters the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.