Gut bacteria article are popping up all over so I decided to go down the info rabbit hole to better understand what it all means…
What if by fixing your gut, you could fix your mind?
I learned so much cool stuff that I wanted to parse together from a layman’s point of view, the more striking info because it’s game changing, almost alchemical stuff.
“Super wow, consider my mind blown by the awesomeness that is science!”
Through advancements in Enteric Neuroscience, which is basically the study of the Enteric Nervous System and how gut bacteria affects our biology, we’re finally learning more about the brain. A rather clever doctor at the top of his field once told me that the medical world only knows about 10% of what’s happening in the body and even less in the brain so I’ll take my breakthroughs were I can.
“Meet your 2nd brain, The Enteric Nervous System”
If you’re like me you remember zero, zip, nada about the The Enteric Nervous System from school; It’s a network of neurons running from your esophagus to your tale bone that meshes out through the gut tissue, it can operate autonomously and oddly, wasn’t discovered until mid 19th century.
“It’s the original nervous system, the one we crawled out of primordial ooze with that might’ve involved into the brain”
The Enteric nerve system connects to the brain by way of the Vagus nerve and research shows that Vagus nerve stimuli can drive obsessive eating as well as allow women with complete spinal cord injuries to experience orgasms, so don’t under estimate its power.
Theories will certainly change as new discoveries are revealed, but for now the good news is with any luck the personalized medical care revolution we hoped for in the wake of gene therapy innovations in the 90’s might finally come to fruition by way of your gut and new insight into the ENS.
“Someday you might sip down a designed just for you bacterial cocktail, and that’s a great thing!”
Nothing new under the sun
In 1910 Doctor George Porter Phillips reported that live bacteria introduced through whey to patients dealing with ‘Melancholia’ reported a marked improvement in mood. His study was further backed up in 1923 when doctors found bacteria treatment helpful in the aid of psychosis.
Studies have long shown a connection between patients who suffer from depression and anxiety to gastrointestinal problems, now the connection becomes less opaque.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that among other things regulates, your ability to feel good. Serotonin producing cells form early in the development of the enteric nervous system. Trauma, say in the form of early gut infection, intense stress could possibly lead to ailments down the road like irritable bowl syndrome. A recent study showed 87 of 100 IBS subjects had antibodies that killed off of neurons in the gut. (Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, vol 18, p 78)
“Most people think Serotonin is produced in the brain, but did you know 90% of it is produced & resides in your gut?”
According to this Caltech study an estimated 90% of serotonin is made in the digestive tract and specific bacteria are critical for its production. It can’t be produced without Tryptophan, and get this, our body doesn’t make any, it must be obtained from food or supplements. Round up spray, a common pesticide, interrupts the pathway in the plant cell that makes tryptophan and messes with the soils ecosystem.
“You begin to see how in one of the richest countries on the planet it’s so very easy to feel terrible in mind and body”
1 in 10 Americans are on SSRI’s, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and that number climbing steadily. According to a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, from 1999 to 2012 the percentage of Americans on antidepressants increased from 6.8% to 13%, While another study highlights that 69% of antidepressant users never met criteria for major depressive disorder.
From Scientific American– more and more doctors are prescribing antidepressants to treat non psychological conditions, this is troubling to me because for some of these issues the meds are a temporary bandage, not a cure. Some off-label uses of SSRIs include:
- Abuse and dependence
- ADHD (in children and adolescents)
- Anxiety disorders
- Autism (in children)
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Neuropathic pain
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Deficits caused by stroke
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Hot flashes
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neurocardiogenic syncope (fainting)
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Premature ejaculation
That’s a lot of things an SSRI can fix, huh? Pill companies must be thrilled to have such a convenient cure on their hands.
Obviously many people on ssri meds benefit from them and see vast improvement to their quality of life. We’ve probably all seen this to be true of ourselves, or family members who stabilized after finding the right med combo, but what if a fair sized percentage of current and new users are dealing with gut troubles manifesting as depression?
“We know antibiotics wipe out gut bacteria, now we’re finding antidepressants also wipe out gut bacteria”
The very medicine taken to feel better could be wiping away healthy gut bacteria and with it, any chance of getting better. This study also noted weight gain was the norm for the mice, as they also suffered a 16% less efficacy rate in burning calories while on a specific antidepressant.
So now you’re overweight, still depressed, and probably experiencing anxiety as adrenaline produced in response to stress can cause an outgrowth of undesirable bacteria. Your doctor then might up your meds, switch you over to another ssri, or maybe add in an anti psychotic to balance you out, never thinking to suggest you take a probiotic, get a hormone panel or start eating more prebiotic foods.
“The chances of the average Western trained doctor suggesting a diagnostic hormone panel or a course of probiotics to cure the blues is low to none”
When the medical, psychiatric and pharmaceutical industry treat psychological conditions with meds that target brain chemistry as well as gut microbes maybe we’ll see improvements.
“There’s slim chance of producing a balanced body ecosystem living in a nutritional desert. “
Gut Microbial Therapy
I found a most edifying lecture by Dr. Simon Carding Leader of the Gut Health and Food Safety Research Program at the Institute of Food Research and Norwich Medical School titled, ‘Fix Your Gut, Fix Your Brain’, which further backs up that gut microbes influence when, what and how often we eat.
Fix your gut, Fix your brain!
Bacteria changes introduced to ‘normal’ weight mice made them gain weight without a calorie increase, just as different strains introduced into the gut of obese mice gave them the ability to eat high fat and not gain weight.
“Gut bacteria in newborns is affected by delivery method with c-sections getting microbiota from the delivery team”
Gut bacteria in newborns is affected by delivery method C-section babies bacteria diversity comes more from the delivery team than the mother. This is why vaginal bacteria transplants are a thing.
Let’s say you’re a bottle, not breast fed C section baby who primarily ate a standard American diet in early childhood, you’re not colonizing the kind of bacteria that help stabilize things like your immunity system, weight or mood, and with that, the ability to fend off future chronic illnesses becomes tricky.
If your system is severely compromised with bad bacteria, specifically Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. which can over-populate the colon, you can die. In these severe cases a Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) can be performed. Fecal matter, that’s your poo, is collected from a donor, mixed with a saline or other solution, strained, then placed in a sick patient, via the colon or sometimes the nasal passage. Once good bacteria levels are restored, patients return to health.
“A gob of strangers poop up your nose could save your life”
Highly effective, thoroughly gross, but in the end animals playing with pack mates poo might be natures way of spreading good bacteria around. Maybe your dog sniffs another dogs butt to determine the health of the newly encountered animal.
Not all donor fecal matter is equal, so who you get your bacteria from matters. A mother with no weight issues received a FMT transplant from her overweight daughter. The daughter went on to become obese, the mother eventually also became obese. The daughter passed on all her bacteria, the good and the not so good.
Sterile mice bred to have no gut bacteria craved sweets, mice with healthy gut bacteria did not. Mice with a certain diversity of microbia digested foods efficiently, remained trim but when gut diversity was reduced, unchecked stress hormone levels went up and the mice sought out fatty foods, and then burned those calories at a slower pace.
Brain scans of human subjects with fatty acids injected directly into the gut showed a lower response to pictures and music designed to make them feel sad than those given a placebo. Subjects also reported feeling only about half as sad as the placebo group. (The Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol 121, p 3094).
Ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, is released when we feel stress, most likely this is left over from fight or flight responses. In 2011 Jeffrey Zigman at UT Southwestern Medical Center reported that mice exposed to chronic stress sought out fatty food, but those genetically engineered to be unable to respond to Ghrelin did not (The Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol 121, p 2684).
Zigman notes that in our modern world, with freely available high-fat food, the result of chronic stress or depression can be chronically elevated ghrelin – and obesity.
“It may turn out some of us crave fatty greasy foods for their sedating properties, rather than a desire to over eat unhealthy foods or lack of will power”
Restoring gut balance could possibly lead to a decrease in food cravings, less fat on the body, less hormonal issues. It’s also becoming clear there’s a connection between gut inflammation and some cancers as intestinal inflammation targets cancer-inducing activity of the microbiota.
One of the thing you can do to address body inflammation is pump up prebiotic foods, and cut out some of the nutrient devoid processed crap that confuse the gut.
Prebiotic foods help populate your gut with healthy bacteria. Cruciferous vegetables are a great source These include-
- Collard greens
- Dandelion Greens
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
And similar leafy greens. Raw veg contains higher levels of what you’re after, cooked is better than not at all. Folks who have medical conditions that make eating these foods difficult should consult a doctor and go slow with introducing new foods.
These foods are high in fiber something good bacteria thrives on. The standard American diet is super low in fiber so some people might need to add a probiotic to aid in digestion. A study showed in mice who had fiber removed from their diet for a little as 7 weeks suffered a 60% drop of the local gut flora, this remained low even after the mice returned to high-fiber meals.
This is where taking a quality probiotic comes in handy. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria readily be found in certain yogurt and kefir products as well as pill and liquid form. The FDA regulates probiotics as foods, not medications so this makes it harder for you to know if you’re getting a quality product There are tons on the market so it’s important to find one with a diversity of cultures, say 30 or more different strains of microbiota as opposed to 5, and one with the ability to stay alive through the stomachs digestive process so it might survive to populate the colon. This usually means the brands stocked in the fridge section, with no added sugars, do your research before purchasing.
It’s a glorious machine this human body, and I’m glad we’re finally making some breakthroughs as I’d like to live out the rest of my days relatively pain free in mind and body. I’m excited new info is out there and that it’s easier than ever to access and research studies to your heart, or guts content.