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Medical Rounds

A Link Between Antibiotics and Mental Illness?

According to new research using medical records, people with serious mental disorders who were hospitalized for mania were more likely to be on antibiotics to treat active infections than a group of people without a mental disorder.

Although the study’s researchers—investigators from Johns Hopkins and Sheppard Pratt Health System—caution that their study does not suggest cause and effect, they note it does suggest that an infection, use of antibiotics or other factors that change the body’s natural collection of gut and other bacteria may individually or collectively contribute to behavioral changes in some people with mental disorders.

Their findings, published July 18 in Bipolar Disorders, add to evidence that the body’s immune system, the so-called gut-brain axis, and the particular bacterial microbiome each person has play an integral part in the ebb and flow of psychiatric symptoms and psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

“More research is needed, but ours suggests that if we can prevent infections and minimize antibiotic treatment in people with mental illness, then we might be able to prevent the occurrence of manic episodes,” says neurovirologist Robert Yolken. “This means we should focus on good-quality health care and infection prevention methods for this susceptible population, and pay extra attention to such things as flu shots, safe sex practices and urinary tract infections in female patients.”