Scientists are getting closer to developing a vaccine to help people stress less.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder discovered an anti-inflammatory fat found in a dirt-dwelling bacteria that’s leading them closer to creating a “stress vaccine” that could potentially prevent post-traumatic stress disorder.
Researchers believe there’s a link between humans being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. They applied the “old friends” scientific theory, which suggests the lack of exposure to beneficial bacteria found in soil and outdoors can negatively impact mental health. The bacterium they’re testing, called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae), is said to decrease inflammation related to the body’s natural response to stress.
“The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation,” neuroendocrinologist Christopher Lower, one of the researchers on the study, told CU Boulder Today. “That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders.”
So far, the stress vaccine has only been tested on mice. Researchers found that when they exposed the mice to the fatty acid from the bacteria, their inflammatory response was reduced. They suggest that the fatty acid could one day be used to help develop drugs that would prevent stressful responses in humans. It’s unclear, however, what long-term health effects or side effects lowering stress responses could have on the human brain.
Lowery says it could take up to 15 years to develop such a treatment before people would be able to access it. But there’s clearly a market for it. An alarming 75% of U.S. employees say workers have more stress at work today than they did a generation ago, and 40% reported that their job was very or extremely stressful, according to data from The American Institute of Stress. What’s more, 12% of people said they called in sick because of job stress, which could end up costing employers a collective $3.6 million annually as a result.