We all know that a poor diet harms our health, but a new study suggests that stress may be just as harmful to our bodies.
In a paper published in Nature; Scientific Reports, Laura Bridgewater, professor of microbiology at Brigham Young University found that when female mice were exposed to stress, their gut microbiota changed to resemble the microbiota of obese mice.
“Stress can be harmful in a lot of ways, but this research is novel in that it ties stress to female-specific changes in the gut microbiota. We sometimes think of stress as a purely psychological phenomenon, but it causes distinct physical changes.”
The study which was a collaboration between at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and Brigham Young University took a group of 8-week-old mice and induced obesity in half of the males and half of the females through a high-fat diet. After 16 weeks, all of the mice were exposed to mild stress over the course of 18 days.
The researchers then measured how the gut microbiota of each of the mice were affected together with levels of anxiety – based on how and where the mice moved around.
The team found interesting differences between the sexes: The obese male mice showed more signs of anxiety than obese females as well as being less active. However, in female mice that most noticeable effect of stress could be seen on the make up of the gut microbiota – closely resembling that of the obese mice.
While the study was only carried out on mice, the team think there are could be significant implications for humans.
“In society, women tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety, which are linked to stress” said Bridgewater, who led the study “This study suggests that a possible source of the gender discrepancy may be the different ways gut microbiota responds to stress in males vs. females.”