The Brain and Gut Series Part 1: Sad? Overwhelmed? Forgetful? Anxious? Look at your Gut!
Are you …
- Feeling sad for no reason?
- Feeling overwhelmed with no ideas on how to manage?
- Have you lost your enthusiasm for favorite activities?
- Have you lost some enjoyment in friendships and relationships?
- Restless mind? (Most of us have this.)
- Feeling guilty about everyday decisions?
- Brain farts? (Some laugh about this but it IS a serious issue)
- How about anger? Do you find yourself angry or aggressive when under stress?
It’s become no secret that the key to good health is in your gut (your colon). Many sources I have read indicate 80% of your immune system resides in the gut. But the gut is a key player in influencing brain function too. Wait a minute: doesn’t the brain control every function in the body? You know, immune function, pain perception, gut health, thyroid function etc.
So, the gut influences the brain and the brain controls the gut among everything else. See how convoluted this seems? It’s really not. This is the miracle of the human body and its self-regulating, self-healing potential (one of the principles that led me to become a chiropractor). We just need to get in the driver’s seat and operate the controls responsibly.
Let’s start with the gut: The integrity of your colon wall influences not only your ability to ward off infections and serious diseases, but also contributes to healthy brain function by influencing the production of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Gut on Fire… Brain on Fire!
Yes, it’s true! Gut inflammation leads to brain inflammation. I’ve seen many patients complaining of weight gain, hormone issues, depression, sleep issues and when I look at their labs, I see they have intestinal integrity issues (leaky gut, bacterial infection etc.). Supporting gut health will help regulate neurotransmitter production and release. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released between neurons (brain cells) to activate them and create excitatory and inhibitory responses. These responses influence the nervous system function. Remember, this is the most important system in your body that controls everything!
Here are some examples:
Acetylcholine (Ach) is a neurotransmitter necessary for healthy memory, creativity, recognition and your opinion about yourself. If you skip meals or you are hypoglycemic/insulin resistant then you have lower levels of glucose in the brain decreasing your ability to make Ach. A diet rich in choline is recommended. This means healthy fats and animal products such as meats and eggs. Fat-free diets and vegetarian diets may negatively impact your levels of this valuable neurotransmitter. Long term risks of low Ach: chronic memory lapses, dementia, Alzheimer’s.
LACK OF ENTHUSIASM, SADNESS, AND FEELING OVERWHELMED:
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is produced inside the central nervous system (brain) and outside the central nervous system (periphery). Within the brain, its production is associated with anger, mood, sleep, body temperature, vomiting, and appetite. (I will focus more on sleep in a future article.) Again, hypoglycemia, habitual meal skippers and insulin resistance impairs the delivery of glucose to the brain in order to make sufficient serotonin to regulate these functions. Balancing blood sugar is the first step in supporting serotonin synthesis, one reason why I harp on my patients who seem hum-drum or depressed about regular healthy eating habits.
DIGESTIVE ISSUES AND PAIN:
Peripheral serotonin is produced mostly in the gastrointestinal tract and does not influence brain function since it cannot cross into the brain. Eating sufficient amounts of proper proteins and having the healthy acidic environment to break them down will help with these conditions.
The Bottom Line:
Your diet and lifestyle dictate healthy gut and brain function. Additional supplementation to assist these functions may be necessary and must be carefully recommended especially if you are taking medications. And never underestimate the power of exercise and its positive effect on the brain. Last month, I observed several people including retirees power walking the boardwalk along the Italian Riviera. A positive image ingrained in my memory of that European experience. Exercise Boosts the Brain!
If you would like an idea of the status of your brain function and basic easy recommendations to specifically boost your brain performance and gut health, I invite you to please contact me. Consultations are given via Skype and by phone.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series next week where I will discuss the Brain, Gut and Sleep Issues.
So, is it all in your head? Not really.
Sources: Datis, Kharrazian, DC. Mastering Brain Chemistry post graduate manual.