Does gut microflora play a role in social phobia?


Does the mere thought of being in a social context give you stomach cramps? The fear of others can actually originate from… visceral. Certain microorganisms in the vast population that inhabit our guts actually appear to play a role in social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, the terror of interacting with other people in places and in everyday activities. This is proven by research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Between the belly and the brain. Now, a large number of studies indicate that the composition of the gut microbiota can influence the emotional sphere and human behavior in some aspects. According to this increasingly shared research, the types and concentrations of gut bacteria could contribute to changes in the origins of some mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases (know more). People with social phobia experience very intense emotional reactions when forced to eat or speak in public, participate in parties or discussions, or face other situations in which they expose themselves to the potential—and feared—judgment of others.

New tenants in the guts. Some researchers at University College Cork in Ireland and the University Hospital in Frankfurt hypothesized that the microbiota may also contribute to this second disorder, and to test their idea, they transplanted some mice with fecal matter from donors affected by social anxiety disorder. After neutralizing the original intestinal microbiota of the animals using drugs, they divided the mice into two groups. Some animals received fecal transplants from individuals with social phobia, others from people without the condition.

Throw yourself into the fight. At this point, the animals were exposed to more or less familiar social situations in which they had to interact with mice they had never seen or others they knew well. Mice recovered from bacterial transplants from people with social phobia actually showed anxiety symptoms typical of “collective” situations, unlike mice in the control group. However, no difference in behavior was noted when the animals interacted with familiar mice.

viscera flattened. In a more detailed analysis of the microbiota, the team noted substantial differences in the bacterial population of the two groups. In particular, mice from fecal transplants from individuals with social phobia showed lower concentrations of the three types of bacteria. Differences were also seen in the amount of oxytocin and other neurotransmitters produced by the rodents, as well as general levels of inflammation, which appeared to be favored in mice that – thanks to the transplant – feared others.


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