Mediterranean Diet May Reduce PTSD Symptoms, Study Says

According to new research, following a Mediterranean diet may help to reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After experiencing a startling, terrifying, or deadly incident, some persons may acquire post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While it is expected to feel scared during and after a traumatic event, it may also leave one feeling incredibly uneasy and worried.

The "fight-or-flight" reaction, which enables us to evade or deal with impending threats, includes fear. After a traumatic event, people may have a variety of responses. However, the majority eventually get over their initial symptoms. PTSD may be identified in those who continue to have issues.


Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a founding institution of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have now discovered additional evidence suggesting that maintaining a Mediterranean diet may lessen the symptoms of PTSD.

The Mediterranean diet prioritizes whole, plant-based foods and beneficial fats, such as nuts, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables. Whole grains and extra virgin olive oil are two additional important components of the diet.

The human gut microbiome has a substantial impact on health consequences, and even though there is evidence that PTSD may impact how emotions form and are expressed, little is known about the relationship between PTSD and gut microbiome.

There is a very intriguing relationship between the human gut microbiome and the brain. Through our study, we examined how factors, like diet, are associated with PTSD symptoms. While further research is needed, we are closer to being able to provide dietary recommendations for PTSD prevention or amelioration.

- Yang-Yu Liu, co-corresponding author

The burden of PTSD frequently extends beyond the affected person; the mental health condition also impacts the family, the healthcare system, and society. The risk of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and early mortality is also higher in those with PTSD.

The researchers gathered information from 191 individuals in the Mind-Body Study (MBS) and the PTSD Substudy, two substudies of the Nurses' Health Study-II (NHS-II). Participants were divided into three groups: those with likely PTSD, those who had experienced trauma but not PTSD, and those who had not.

At the start of the trial and again six months later, each participant provided two sets of four stool samples. The samples were taken to gather microbial DNA data and to verify that the participant's gut microbiome had remained constant during the previous six months.

Examining the gut-brain axis can provide insights on the interdependence of mental and physical health. Our findings suggest the PTSD and human gut microbiome relationship is a promising area of research that may lead to recommendations for alleviating the downstream negative health consequences of PTSD.

- Karestan Koenen, co-corresponding author

The researchers examined the relationships between the host characteristics, such as PTSD symptoms, age, body mass index (BMI), dietary data, and the overall microbiome structure. They discovered many host parameters connected to the microbiome structure from this assessment.

The researchers next evaluated the connection between PTSD symptoms and the provided dietary information.

Correlation between the Mediterranean diet and PTSD symptoms

Those who followed a Mediterranean diet had fewer PTSD symptoms. In particular, they found a strong correlation between PTSD symptoms and red and processed meat intake. Conversely, PTSD symptoms were inversely correlated with plant-based diet intake.

Finally, to uncover potential PTSD protective species, the scientists used the generalized microbe-phenotype triangulation (GMPT) approach to investigate the relationship between PTSD symptoms and gut microbiome signatures. The highest possible protective species against PTSD was discovered to be Eubacterium eligens.

The inverse correlation between E. eligens abundance and PTSD symptoms was highly constant across all four time periods, allowing the scientists to examine the robustness of this signature across time. They also showed that E. eligens was adversely linked with red/processed meat, which those following a Mediterranean diet restrict or avoid, and that it was positively associated with the enhanced components of the Mediterranean diet.

The research group noticed the study's limitations, including using a brief PTSD screening scale. However, the findings guide future research on other mental health conditions and dietary treatments to enhance symptom relief or prevention suggestions.

Liu concludes: "It's exciting that our results imply that the Mediterranean diet may provide potential relief to individuals experiencing PTSD symptoms. We are eager to learn more about the relationship between PTSD, diet, and the gut microbiome. In a future study, we will attempt to validate the efficacy of probiotics as a method to prevent PTSD."


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