Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gut, Brain, Bacteria, and Behavior

Can the way we use antibiotics — without focusing on keeping up the normal biota in our gut that antibiotics wipe out — be contributing to the rise in both “mental” illnesses as well as inflammatory and metabolic disorders such as allergies and diabetes?

Scientists are saying “YES.”

They are re-confirming what many doctors and researchers in the field of Integrative medicine have been saying for years — that gut health is intimately connected with the function of our brain.[1]

The gut-brain connection is being implicated in brain disorders ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia (as it was in my own children).

One recent study[2] showed that having normal gut bacteria during early life may result in resistance to not just intestinal problems, but to systemic autoimmunity and allergic responses.  Why? The authors say the bacteria
"promote anti-inflammatory immune responses by expanding and activating regulatory T-cells. The finding has important implications for understanding how gut-resident bacteria affect both intestinal and systemic immune responses."
What are T-cells and how does this tie in with mental illness?  T-cells are the white blood cells that search and destroy foreign bodies that threaten the host. A healthy gut equals a healthy person.

But even more directly relating to the brain, is another study. In a communiqué from McMaster University via EurekAlert! [3], we find:
A lot of chatter goes on inside each one of us and not all of it happens between our ears.

Researchers at McMaster University discovered that the "cross-talk" between bacteria in our gut and our brain plays an important role in the development of psychiatric illness, intestinal diseases and probably other health problems as well including obesity.

"The wave of the future is full of opportunity as we think about how microbiota or bacteria influence the brain and how the bi-directional communication of the body and the brain influence metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes," says Jane Foster, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.
In a study using germ-free mice, Foster and colleagues found the functioning of genes (see epigenetics) linked to learning and memory are altered in the absence of germs. In particular, they found the genes functioning differently in one of the key brain regions for learning and memory -- the hippocampus.
"The take-home message is that gut bacteria influences anxiety-like behavior through alterations in the way the brain is wired," said Foster.
This study took place in the Brain-Body Institute, a joint research initiative of McMaster University and St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton. The institute was created to advance understanding of the relationship between the brain, nervous system and bodily disorders.
"We have a hypothesis in my lab that the state of your immune system and your gut bacteria -- which are in constant communication -- influences your personality," Foster said.
She said psychiatrists, in particular, are interested in her research because of the problems of side effects with current drug therapy.
"The idea behind this research is to see if it's possible to develop new therapies which could target the body, free of complications related to getting into the brain," Foster said. "We need novel targets that take a different approach than what is currently on the market for psychiatric illness. Those targets could be the immune system, your gut function…we could even use the body to screen patients to say what drugs might work better in their brain."
Gut health was definitely an intensely important factor in my children’s recovery from “mental” illness.

Many people address the gut issue on multiple fronts:
  • Digestion from chewing to elimination, possibly using digestive enzymes.
  • Probiotics (normal biota of the gut can be affected even from birth such as in the case of Caesarian Sections, but also later from antibiotics, poor diet, and illness).
  • Prebiotics nutrients (such as arabinogalactan) and fiber to assist in the gut bacteria taking hold and flourishing).
  • Attacking Candida overgrowth that typically occurs in the absence of normal gut bacteria (often done via a low sugar, low refined-carb diet (such as a person with diabetes or metabolic syndrome should eat) plus over-the-counter anticandidal agents, and occasionally prescription antifungal agents). Quest Diagnostics provides laboratory tests for systemic yeast. Regular insurance will hopefully cover these, just like any other blood work the doctor orders: 
  • Healthy diet – well-rounded with lots of whole foods and fiber.
  • Eliminating foods which the person may be allergic or sensitive to. Food sensitivity testing can be done in different ways, such as:
    Note that foods (such as gluten and cow casein) as well as an assortment of food and environmental sensitivities can also directly cause brain symptoms, and may not be just affecting gut health. (See here, here, here and here).

Related Reading:

A Few Related Books and DVDs (see site for more):

Important Related Off-site Links:


Property of  
Last Updated: 20 March 2012


tokenblogger said...

I really liked the video links you posted on facebook regarding waiting to clamp/cut the umbilical cord. Thanks.

Odddlycrunchy said...

Have you read The Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride? It really fits in with what you're saying, gives a detailed description of what happens in gut dysbiosis and the effect on the brain. The GAPS diet is the SCD diet, improved and updated. A MUST-READ for anyone interested in this topic. Or in health in general!

Grant said...

Great post and really important information! Also, you might like to know that the book 'mBraining' describes the strong connection between various behaviors and the enteric brain. There's strong evidence that the enteric brain and cranial brain can influence one another, and that bacteria in the gut definitely influence behavior. For m ore information you might like to look at