Tag Archives: Human gastrointestinal tract

The Gut-Brain Connection

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 2.42.44 PMA large body of evidence is accumulating to support a role between healthy gut function, brain development and function of the central nervous system. The organisms contained in the gut should be considered an inner organ with functions similar in importance to any other organ present in the body. Disruptions in this “organ” may alter many things including brain function and cause symptoms like depression, anxiety, ‘brain fog’ and more.

At birth the human gastrointestinal tract is sterile, however, it is quickly colonized and by the age of one year, the bacterial profile looks similar to that of an adult.1 The connection between the gut and the brain is known to be bidirectional. This means messages from the gut affect brain function just as much as messages from the brain affect gut function.2

 The mechanism by which alterations in bacterial profiles of the gut affect how we feel, think and move is fascinating. It all begins with lipopolysaccharides (LPS). LPS are structures located on the surfaces of bacteria present in our gut. These LPS may actually get out of the gut and into the blood stream producing a very strong immune response. Normally, the gut does a very good job keeping these LPS from getting into the blood stream.3 However, when the barrier in the gut weakens (‘leaky gut’) LPS is more easily absorbed and enters circulation.  When this occurs, inflammation ensues. If the process continues, high levels of inflammation are generated and this begins to alter neurotransmitter levels in the brain. With enough change in neurotransmitter levels, mood, behavior and cognitive function suffer.

What causes leaky gut? There are a lot of factors, however, evidence points to a high fructose diet (sugary beverages), the Western diet (high in processed foods) and nutrient deficiencies like vitamin D, A, zinc and magnesium.These factors are also known to increase the ability of LPS to get into the blood stream.4

 Symptoms of depression, anxiety, ‘brain fog,’ or poor memory may not always be coming from your brain. The genesis of the problem might actually be in your gut! By maintaining a healthy diet and addressing potential nutrient deficiencies you may see many of your symptoms disappear without the need for expensive, mind-altering medications!

1Palmer C, Bik EM, DiGiulio DB, Relman DA, Brown PO. Development of the human infant intestinal microbiota. PLoS Biol. 2007 Jul;5(7):e177.

2O’Mahony SM, Hyland NP, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Maternal separation as a model of brain-gut axis dysfunction. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Mar;214(1):71-88.

3Bested AC, Logan AC, Selhub EM. Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances: Part II – contemporary contextual research. Gut Pathog. 2013 Mar 14;5(1):3.

4Teixeira TF, Collado MC, Ferreira CL, Bressan J, Peluzio Mdo C. Potential mechanisms for the emerging link between obesity and increased intestinal permeability. Nutr Res. 2012 Sep;32(9):637-47.

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Probiotics for that colicky baby

Escherichia coli: Scanning electron micrograph...

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Below is a short article from the NY Times.  It summarizes some of the studies that have been done regarding probiotics (healthy bacteria) and colic in babies.  See my comments at the end.

NY Times Article

Colic is one of the most prevalent conditions of infancy: about 20 percent of all babies suffer the inconsolable bouts of crying that characterize it.

Yet no one really understands what makes a baby colicky. Scientists have investigated a number of causes — allergies, hormones in milk, even stress in the womb. But some now think it may stem from inflammation in the gut, perhaps a result of too many harmful bacteria and not enough beneficial ones.

A 2009 study, for example, found that colicky babies had gastrointestinal inflammation and traces of a bacterium in their guts that may have prompted it. Babies without colic had no inflammation and a greater diversity of beneficial bacteria.

So could higher levels of gut-friendly bacteria make a difference?

In a 2007 study, Italian researchers looked into this by examining 83 colicky babies who were breast-fed. Over 28 days, some of the infants were given simethicone, a medication that reduces gas; the others were given a supplement containing L. reuteri, one of the beneficial bacteria known as probiotics and often found in yogurt. At the end of the study, the babies who received the probiotic cried an average of 51 minutes a day, compared with about two and a half hours in the other group. A 2010 study had similar results.

Gut microbiota changes induced by the probiotic could be involved in the observed clinical improvement,” the researchers wrote. Still, experts say they would like to see more studies.

Dr. Court’s Comments

Our gastrointestinal system is extremely complex.  A huge part of that complexity is the trillions and trillions of microorganisms that exist in your gut in the form of bacteria.  It is the balance of these bacteria that determines, to a large extent, the health of your gut and therefore, you.

Babies are no different.  An imbalance of bacteria can lead to many problems including allergies, maldigestion and malabsorption and now possibly colic.

It is not a surprise that research points to gut inflammation as a source of colic.  It makes perfect sense.  I see many patients in my office who have gastrointestinal complaints.  Through stool testing we are often able to determine that there is significant inflammation present in their GI system.  This inflammation is often helped by using potent probiotics to restore the balance of good and bad bacteria.

Taking a probiotic is very simple.  They are available in pill or powder form.  Many companies even make infant formulas that are specifically designed to be gentle on developing systems.

So if you have a young child who just won’t stop crying, consider trying a probiotic.  It’s a safe and effective tool to reduce colic and give your baby some much needed relief.

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