Once considered as two completely independent and separate systems, current research has proved that not only the brain and digestive system work closely together, but also imbalances and deficiencies in one can majorly affect the other. What exactly does this connection look like?
The first way these two organs communicate with each other is through small cells called neurons that carry commands to and from the brain and other parts of your body. There are 500 million neurons found in your gut alone, so this already tells you that your gut is more than just a place where all the food and drinks you consume will end up. The vagus nerve has a huge role in the Gut-Brain Axis, and stress can affect the signals sent by this nerve to the digestive system causing GI problems including but not limited to indigestions, gas, bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study conducted by Pellissier et al. (2014) showed that people with IBS have reduced vagal tone, which means that their vagus nerve was under-functioning.
The second way the gut and the brain communicate with each other is through small chemicals called neurotransmitters such as Serotonin and GABA. You may be surprised that the normal bacteria flora found in your digestive system produces many of these neurotransmitters and as a result these chemicals are found in abundance in the gut. So, there may be more to the saying “I have a Gut Feeling” after all, as these chemicals control our moods, and any imbalance between their levels is implicated in many common mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and so on.
While most people have heard about the “Leaky Gut Syndrome”, very few individuals may be aware of the “Leaky Brain Syndrome”. So what is this syndrome, and why should we care? After learning that your gut and brain communicate and depend on one another to function, it may not come as a surprise that this leaky brain condition starts in the gut. When there is an intolerance to the food we eat on the daily basis, especially to gluten, this causes increased intestinal permeability, which then will alter the normal and healthy bacterial flora and will give opportunity for pathogenic bacteria to take over and cause havoc by producing by-products such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS then in turn will leak into the bloodstream and cause systemic inflammation. Moreover, research has shown presence of gluten and dairy antibodies in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with gluten and dairy intolerance. What this means is that the blood-brain barrier protecting the brain from bacteria, toxins and so on is compromised or otherwise leaky, which makes the brains of these individuals more susceptible to infections, and autoimmune conditions.
During the holidays it’s so much more difficult to avoid your food sensitivities, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And just because you have food sensitivities doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your holiday treats. There are so many resources for making your favourite holiday treats without putting your body through the anguish of eating something your gut, your brain, and your body doesn’t like.
You may be suffering from insomnia, migraine headaches, anxiety and depression, and may want to know if your symptoms are stemming from the leaky brain syndrome. The good first step would be to visit a naturopathic doctor to find out if you have a food sensitivity that can be exacerbating your symptoms. They will likely run a food sensitivity test in addition to other specific biomarkers to assess degree of inflammation in your body. Once you go over the lab results with your ND, they will offer you an individualized treatment plan based on severity of your symptoms and your preference, which will involve extensive therapeutic dietary plan, botanical medicine, orthomolecular supplementation, lifestyle recommendations, counselling and pharmaceutical prescription. It’s important to find an ND that takes your preferences, budget and lifestyle into consideration and keeps you well informed and engaged during the whole process since this is your journey and setting up realistic and attainable goals will increase the efficacy and success of your treatment plan. At Butterfly Naturopathic, our doctors have a person-centred approach to helping all our patients, and this approach has fostered sustainable and powerful alliances between our patients and doctors. If you think, Butterfly sounds like the right place for you to become the healthiest version of yourself, feel free to reach out and make an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors.