Is Constipation a sign of Depression?


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According to several reports, Depression and Constipation seem to be linked. However, researchers are still unable to pinpoint the exact reason why. It is common for people suffering from depression to concomitantly get gut health problems such as constipation.

About one third of the people diagnosed with depression go through digestive problems, most commonly constipation. Bowel obstructions are generally reported by people more prone to having mood disorders or other mental health problems.

A study was done which involved 54 constipated patients recruited from motility disorder department of Research Center for Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases. They were then screened for psychiatric disorders using HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and MINI (Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview). The results showed a relatively high percentage of anxiety and depression both in HADS and MINI. This clearly indicated a relationship between both mental disorders and constipation.

Researchers from Columbia University recently revealed that the two might be related by low levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in the transfer of messages from one part of the brain to another. It’s also known as the “happy” chemical as it gives people a sense of well being and happiness- leading to an improved mental state.

Even though it’s manufactured in the brain, 90% of Serotonin’s supply is present in the digestive tract. Due to the wide-ranging distribution of its cells, it’s believed to affect a number of psychological and physiological functions.

The researchers studied the effects of varying the concentration of Serotonin in mice. These mice carried a mutated gene that’s linked to severe depression in humans. It functions by slowing down the ability of neurons to produce serotonin. This resulted in deterioration of the mice’s gut lining which slowed the movement through the rodent’s Gastro Intestinal tract, hence leading to constipation. This confirmed the hypothesis of serotonin linking to both mental and gastric issues.

People having mental health problems have shown signs of not only constipation but other gut related health problems as well. This can be because of a number of reasons:

  • Over stressing might lead to muscle tightness, which in turn can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). One of the symptoms of IBS can be constipation.
  • Stress and anxiety can also suppress gastrocolic reflex. It’s an involuntary response controlling the motility or peristalsis of the gastric tract.

Researchers say artificially increasing serotonin levels in a human body might help in improving the physical well being of the patients. Another study suggested that “controlling the bacterial population of the gastro intestinal tract might help improve the symptoms of mental disorders”.

Millions of “good” and “bad” bacteria are always present on and in the human body. They normally exist in a balance which does not pose any threat to the human health, however, small changes in their populations might lead to various mental as well as physical disorders. The system of connection between the GI tract and the brain is referred to as the “gut-brain axis”. Some researchers believe that slight changes in the optimal gut conditions might disrupt the gut-brain axis and hinder proper brain development, especially in infants.


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