New Study Uncovers Link Between PTSD and Oral Microbiome in Veterans

April 10, 2023

Summary: The study found a link between the oral microbiome and PTSD in veterans who fought in the 1982 Lebanon War, revealing similar patterns of bacteria in saliva for those with PTSD and high levels of psychopathology. This groundbreaking discovery could lead to new, objective methods for diagnosing PTSD, including post-traumatic stress disorder treatment options.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious condition that affects many veterans, and early and accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment. One of the main challenges in diagnosing PTSD in veterans is symptom overlap. PTSD symptoms can overlap with other conditions, such as depression and anxiety, making it difficult to distinguish between them. Another challenge is the stigma associated with mental health disorders; many veterans may be reluctant to seek help for PTSD.

Additionally, a lack of understanding of PTSD and its symptoms among some healthcare providers may lead to missed or delayed diagnoses. Furthermore, veterans have often experienced multiple traumatic events, making it harder to pinpoint a specific cause of their PTSD symptoms. Lastly, PTSD is often comorbid with other medical or mental health conditions, making it harder to diagnose.

Despite these challenges, early diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in veterans is crucial for improving their quality of life and reducing the risk of suicide. Therefore, it is important to overcome these challenges and provide veterans with the support and care they need to manage their PTSD.

One of the issues that doctors face in the early diagnosis of PTSD is the lack of any objective test, biomarker, or reliable lab test. It means that the condition is mainly diagnosed through history taking. It often results in delays in the diagnosis. However, in recent years, researchers have been focusing on developing a reliable biomarker for an early diagnosis of the condition. A new study suggests that measuring changes in the oral microbiome in veterans may help identify PTSD early enough. This new study was recently published in the journal The Molecular Psychiatry.

The study focused on a group of approximately 200 Israeli veterans who had fought in the 1982 Lebanon War. These participants were selected from a larger cohort that had been part of a 40-year study led by Prof. Solomon. The veterans were evaluated for various psychological factors, such as sleep disorders, guilt, suicidal thoughts, social support, satisfaction with life, demographic information, psychopathology, welfare, health, and education.

The researchers from Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities found that veterans with PTSD and high levels of psychopathology had similar patterns of bacteria in their saliva. This is the first time that such a link has been identified. The researchers believe this discovery could lead to new, objective methods for diagnosing PTSD. They also found that exposure to air pollution was associated with higher PTSD risk. In contrast, higher levels of education had a protective effect on the oral microbiome.

Prof. Illana Gozes, the lead researcher, noted that about a third of the veterans with PTSD had never been officially diagnosed, despite displaying symptoms. She emphasized that this study may allow for a more accurate diagnosis of PTSD in the future by taking into account both behavioral and biological markers.

Of course, these are still early days in understanding how PTSD influences various body functions. Nonetheless, this study shows that an objective assessment of the condition is possible. For example, one way of early diagnosis could be by looking for microbial signatures.

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Medical Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the content provided is not direct medical advice for patient care, but is provided for thoughtful discussion.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP