Do you regularly feel confused or forgetful? Are you increasingly anxious or paranoid? Or do you fly into a rage unexpectedly? Firstly, let me assure you that you are not alone and secondly, there are some very intriguing reasons how these emotions come into play…
In the next few months we will look at how feeling stressed and less ‘emotionally centred’ often correlates with having a lowered immunity, digestive sluggishness and/or nasty love handles that won’t seem to budge. For our children the picture looks fairly similar, give or take the weight issues.
I am fascinated by the research I am reading and how the systems of our body are so intricately linked. For example, the health issues mentioned above are not just about poor balance of gut bacteria (dysbiosis) nor are they solely about the communication link between the bacteria in our gut and the brain. More specifically they relate to the Gut-Brain-Immune Axis (the interplay between the neural, immunological, endocrine and metabolic PATHWAYS of our body). Where we see when one system is taxed and compromised, other systems become severely strained and with time begin to function poorly. 1
Let me ask you this…
When you feel nervous — where do you feel it? We feel it in or stomach or gut, right?
Did you also know that there are AS MANY neurons (nerve cells) in the gut as there are in the spinal cord?2
In fact the gut is the ONLY organ that contains an intrinsic nervous system(technically known as the enteric nervous system) and it is therefore able to initiate reflexes in the COMPLETE ABSENCE of input from the brain or the spinal cord?3 The gut acts as a completely independent site of neural processing and this is why it is called the SECOND BRAIN.
While this second brain is not the seat of any conscious thoughts or decision-making it does much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. This little brain in our innards works hard and we’ll talk about this in future posts.
Did you know that 95% of the body’s our body’s ‘feel good’ hormone (serotonin) is made in the bowel?4 When our bowel (or gut) is out of balance so too are many of our thoughts and feelings.
From previous posts and other reading that you have done, most of you know that around 80% of our immune system is found in the gut.5 It is for all of these reasons (and many more) and the way with which we live our lives today, that we have seen such a rise in all manner of health challenges.6
Looking at solutions
While this escalation is intriguing, I for one am more interested in the solutions. While these solutions may not be quick and easy I believe there are enough practitioners, biologists, immunologists, etc and, most importantly, intelligent parents searching for long-term, safe approaches to reclaiming our health and the health of our children and the horizon looks more positive then ever before.
Fifteen years ago when a child was diagnosed ‘autistic’ their future seemed bleak and hopeless. Yet today with all the knowledge we have and our continued learning there are children having extremely positive results from all manner of health challenges. While there is not one single answer or single step involved in these health puzzles (there are many steps indeed) I believe that our body has an incredible capacity to rebalance and re-heal itself given the right assistance. Again I am not alone and find myself immersed in the work of world leading pioneers working with physical and mental health issues, who are having incredible results through re-strengthening the body and addressing environmental stressors.
Lets run through a few examples of the link between the brain and the gut…
Serotonin is a key brain chemical that is responsible for regulating learning, balancing out excessive stimulation of the brain, memory, sensory perception, pain control, noise sensitivity, mood, behaviour, sleep and appetite (including carbohydrate cravings.)
Adequate amounts of serotonin are necessary for so many integral functions of the body- if we use stimulant medications or caffeine regularly– it can cause a depletion of serotonin over time.7
Serotonin is made from tryptophan (an amino acid, which is a building block of protein) with the help of vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium and vitamin B6. Children with developmental disorders often show amino acid deficiency including tryptophan and often have an inability to effectively convert B6 to P5P (co-enzyme or active form of B6). Your body requires P5P for various functions including muscle growth and repair, neurotransmitter functions and energy metabolism.8 With 95% of the body’s serotonin being made in the gut9 I believe the next few posts on “gut health’ from a biochemical and neurological level will be of great interest to most of us.
Neurotransmitters (chemicals that helps nerves communicate) such as serotonin can be depleted in many ways including:10
- Poor diet,
- Genetic predisposition,
- Drugs (prescription and recreational),
Interestingly, one American study estimated that 86% of people have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. 11
If you are reading this wondering, “Well what do I do to prevent these neurotransmitters being depleted?” then look again at the list above and consider ways that you can reduce your stress, alcohol and caffeine intake for example, or how you can prioritise more nutritious foods in your day. And yes we will talk more strategies over the next few months.
Losing focus or over-stimulated
Dopamine is our main “focus” neurotransmitter. When dopamine is either elevated or low – we can have focus issues such as not remembering where we put our keys, forgetting what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it or simply day-dreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine, god bless it – is also responsible for our drive or desire to get things done – or our motivation.
Low dopamine levels impair attention and focus while high dopamine levels cause the mind to race and increase sensory perception which causes an overload on the brain’s ability to process. Therefore both low and high dopamine levels have adverse affects on behavior and concentration and it is our inability to regulate dopamine that is the issue.12
Autism and ADHD
Children with autism and ADHD often have dysregulation in their dopamine system. Some say individuals with behavioural challenges have abnormal receptors – which are predominantly found in the gut. Stimulants such as medications for ADD/ADHD and caffeine cause dopamine to be pushed into the synapse (joining of two neurons) so that focus is improved. Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently can cause a depletion of dopamine over time.13
The gut and the brain are linked in many ways and the gut is able to influence the brain and behaviour via a number of mechanisms not just via depletion of the neurotransmitters as discussed. The bacterial composition of our gut is also able to influence the brain via the bloodstream, mucosal immune cells, with the release of other gut hormones and via neural pathways.14 These are all part of the bi-directional bacterial-gut-brain axis.
The broad influence of fatty deposits
Interestingly even our ‘love handles’ and other fatty deposits in the body are able to influence our health. Fatty tissue doesn’t actually just sit there — contrary to what we might think — rather than merely blobbing about, fatty tissue functions as an endocrine gland (meaning it secretes hormones). Just like other endocrine glands (including the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid, adrenal glands and reproductive glands) these fatty deposits are influenced by the function or poor function of other systems of the body and have massive capacity to influence our health. It is suggested that poor fat metabolism can result in insulin sensitivity, hormone dysregulation, inflammation and immune function amongst other things.15 Who knew??
Riding the roller-coaster of research discovery!
Oh there’s so much to learn and as I write “Which Foods When — Step By Step Advice For Avoiding Allergies and Increasing Health and Immunity,” I find myself on a thrilling ‘roller coaster’ of discovery. There is so much more involved then I ever imagined in protecting digestive health and I’m eager to share this with you all over the next few months.
Yes, we’ll talk about the many factors that cause a shift in immune responses in our children including the way we birth and nourish our children but also a strategy for how we can reduce our addictions to caffeine, sugar and stress, and support our bodies to reclaim its health potential.
Yours in Health,
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
. . . . .[expand title=”REFERENCES” tag=”h6″]
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