The strong connection between microbes and mental illness
Three prominent Lyme-literate physicians—Drs. Robert Bransfield, Charlotte Mao, and Rosalie Greenberg—have recently published a comprehensive review of infectious diseases associated with mental illness.
The article, Microbes and Mental Illness: Past, Present, and Future is available online from Healthcare, an open access journal.
It makes for eye-opening reading.
First, the authors summarize the history of how mental illness has been viewed through the ages. For instance, in ancient times, such a condition was thought to mean you were possessed by demons. Or that a witch had cast a spell on you. Or that you were being punished by an angry god.
They bring us forward to modern days, where perspectives on the origin of mental illness may include gene expression, environmental triggers, immune mediators, and/or infectious diseases. It is the last category that this article shines a spotlight on.
The authors state:
Microbes are associated with a number of mental disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders, as well as suicidality and aggressive or violent behaviors.
Specific microbes that have been associated or potentially associated with at least one of these conditions include Aspergillus, Babesia, Bartonella, Borna disease virus, Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Candida, Chlamydia, coronaviruses (e.g., SARS-CoV-2), Cryptococcus neoformans, cytomegalovirus, enteroviruses, Epstein–Barr virus, hepatitis C, herpes simplex virus, human endogenous retroviruses, human immunodeficiency virus, human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6), human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1, influenza viruses, measles virus, Mycoplasma, Plasmodium, rubella virus, Group A Streptococcus (PANDAS), Taenia solium, Toxoplasma gondii, Treponema pallidum (syphilis), Trypanosoma, and West Nile virus.
The authors describe in detail five examples of microbes associated with mental illness:
- syphilis (a sexually transmitted spirochetal disease)
- toxoplasmosis (a zoonotic parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii)
- COVID-19 (a respiratory-transmitted viral disease)
- Lyme borreliosis and associated infections (zoonotic vector-borne disease)
- group A streptococcal infections and PANDAS/PANS (an autoimmune disease induced by infection and other provocations).
As they point out in the section on Lyme disease:
Since many healthcare professionals are unaware of the full range of potential manifestations of Lyme disease, as well as the limited sensitivity of commonly used laboratory tests and interpretation criteria, many early cases are undiagnosed and untreated. These frequently avoidable errors can result in progression to late-stage disease with significant neuropsychiatric symptomatology.
If you or a loved one are facing mental health challenges, I highly recommend you print out Microbes and Mental Illness: Past, Present, and Future, read it carefully, and share it with your healthcare provider. Good stuff.
TOUCHED BY LYME is written by Dorothy Kupcha Leland, President of LymeDisease.org. She is co-author of Finding Resilience: A Teen’s Journey Through Lyme Disease and of When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide. Contact her at email@example.com.