The effect of interventions targeting gut microbiota on depressive symptoms: a systematic review


Background: Despite their popularity, the efficacy of interventions targeting gut microbiota to improve depressive symptoms is unknown. Our objective is to summarize the effect of microbiome-targeting interventions on depressive symptoms.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis. We searched MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and the Cochrane Controlled Register of Trials from inception to Mar. 5, 2021. We included studies that evaluated probiotic, prebiotic, synbiotic, paraprobiotic or fecal microbiota transplant interventions in an adult population (age ≥ 18 yr) with an inactive or placebo comparator (defined by the absence of active intervention). Studies must have measured depressive symptoms with a validated scale, and used a randomized controlled trial study design. We conducted a random effects meta-analysis of change scores, using standardized mean difference as the measure of effect.

Results: Sixty-two studies formed the final data set, with 50 included in the meta-analysis. Probiotic, prebiotic, and synbiotic interventions on depressive symptoms showed statistically significant benefits. In the single studies evaluating each of fecal microbiota transplant and paraprobiotic interventions, neither showed a statistically significant benefit.

Interpretation: Despite promising findings of benefit of probiotic, prebiotic and symbiotic interventions for depressive symptoms in study populations, there is not yet strong enough evidence to favour inclusion of these interventions in treatment guidelines for depression. Critical questions about species administered, dosage and timing relative to other antidepressant medications remain to be answered.

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