Gut Tips #5: Is It Your Brain Or Your Gut?

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Photo by Kat Jayne on

Great piece from Dr Kharrazian today on email which gives me my latest gut tip for you. (If you missed any, you can catch up here). Is your chronic gut problem really a brain problem? Read on…

How could the gut possibly affect mood?

While they may be far apart on an anatomy diagram, the digestive system communicates with the brain and impacts its function via two primary pathways:

1. By sending neurological input via the vagus nerve, a large nerve that extends from the brainstem (base of the brain) down to all the organ systems. This pathway is bi-directional, which is why you’ll hear both terms, “brain-gut axis” and “gut-brain axis.”

2. Via “post-biotics,” certain byproducts of bacteria that inhabit our gut. These sometimes harmful chemicals cross the protective layer around the brain called the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, they can cause brain inflammation.

Fix the brain to fix the gut

More and more these days you hear, “All disease begins in the gut.

Gut disorders are at the root of many health conditions. But while addressing the gut can impact mood, what many practitioners don’t realize — and therefore do not address — is that for many patients, gut issues are based in the brain.

This means the brain must be addressed in order for the gut to operate at its best. In full circle, this helps lay the groundwork for healthy mood and cognition.

Traumatic brain injuries and gut function

With traumatic brain injuries (TBI) it’s common to see patients experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation years or even decades after the actual injury.

This is due to smoldering, long-term brain inflammation instigated by the injury. However, most patients and doctors don’t know this is possible, or what to look for.

We used to think the intensity of impact was the key factor in assessing brain injury: Indeed, if you lose consciousness from a brain impact, it’s certain your brain has received significant injury.

But it turns out it’s not how hard you hit your head that matters most, but what was going on with the brain environment before the impact.

The following factors can make a head impact far more devastating:

  • Blood sugar instability (think chronic low/high blood sugar swings, or diabetes).
  • Chronic toxin exposure.
  • Autoimmunity.
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Health issues that cause low oxygen to the brain such as poor circulation to hands and feet, anemia, asthma, and lung disorders.

Everyone seems to think only pro football players with repeated TBIs are at risk for long-term brain issues.

Yet at my clinic I see countless everyday people with a history of brain impacts where they never lost consciousness.  When pressed for deeper health history, they often reveal, “Oh, I did have a concussion five years ago but I recovered quickly and it’s not a problem any more.

These patients suffer from:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Cognitive issues
  • Personality changes
  • Neurological issues
  • Disrupted gut function
  • Autoimmunity
  • Chronic systemic inflammation
  • And more

That’s when the red lights go on and we look to the brain for the source of symptoms.

Interesting, huh? Check out my Brain factsheet for more if this sounds like you – about a third of the way down, read about NeuroInflammation.

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