- Bacteria and viruses dwelling in our gut produce compounds that can interact with our nervous system in ways that appear to affect our anxiety and stress responses.
- Early clinical trials suggest that bacterial remedies, such as probiotic supplements, may be useful in treating several types of psychological distress.
- Eventually individual assessments of gut microbial communities could allow physicians and researchers to tailor treatments for mental disorders.
The thought of parasites preying on your body or brain very likely sends shivers down your spine. Perhaps you imagine insectoid creatures bursting from stomachs or a malevolent force controlling your actions. These visions are not just the night terrors of science-fiction writers—the natural world is replete with such examples.
Take Toxoplasma gondii, the single-celled parasite. When mice are infected by it, they suffer the grave misfortune of becoming attracted to cats. Once a cat inevitably consumes the doomed creature, the parasite can complete its life cycle inside its new host. Or consider Cordyceps, the parasitic fungus that can grow into the brain of an insect. The fungus can force an ant to climb a plant before consuming its brain entirely. After the insect dies, a mushroom sprouts from its head, allowing the fungus to disperse its spores as widely as possible.