Gut Feelings and the Gut Brain Axis

 

Gut Feelings and the Gut Brain Axis

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation: www.mindd.org

For the past few years, the topics of mental health, emotional health and psychological wellbeing have received some much-needed attention. What was once an area only discussed in the seclusion of a medical appointment, counselling session or support group, emotional health is now a mainstream aspect of our total health and wellbeing. Health blogs, scientific journals and medical conferences are teeming with advice and new research on how to support this fundamental facet of our health.

One area of integrative medicine gaining momentum in mental health research is the Gut-Brain Axis. This axis involves chemical signals that occur between your gastrointestinal tract and your nervous system. Studies are showing the intestinal microbiota are particularly influential here, communicating with the brain via several physiological pathways. In the future, its possible that many mental health conditions will be treated via amendment of our intestinal microbial populations.

What is the Mechanism?

In medical science research, disease correlations are often found between a specific environmental factor (e.g., diet, lifestyle, medication, pollutant) and a resulting condition or disease state. Correlations are interesting to researchers and the general public alike, but correlations do not prove causation. What is required to prove causation is a cellular mechanism, the discovery of a molecular event that ultimately links a specific environmental factor with causing a condition.

Does a mechanism exist between the gut microbiome having an influence on brain health? The science for this is very strong, and three mechanisms are receiving a lot of attention:

1) The immune mechanism. Microbial populations can cause immune activation directly at the gut mucosal surface membranes. This is especially the case when microbes are pathogenic (disease causing) members of the microbiome. The enhanced inflammatory response in the gut leads to stimulation of the peripheral immune system. This immune stimulation is able to stimulate specific neurons (nerves) associated with serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in many behavioural and emotional health disorders.

2) The vagus nerve mechanism. The Gut Brain Axis is a two-way communication network between your central nervous system (which includes your brain and spinal cord) and your enteric nervous system (a nerve network in your gut). Essentially, this anatomical link establishes a direct, physical connection between the emotional centres of the brain and intestinal function. Studies are revealing that the gut microbiota may signal the brain via nerves, hormones, immune responses and antibodies.

3) The bacterial waste product mechanism. Funnily enough, the link between gut and brain health is not new. Just over 100 years ago, patients with depression, anxiety and psychosis were ‘purged’ of their imbalanced state of mind with colonic irrigation and abdominal surgeries. The idea was that poisons originating in the gut were the root cause of these mental health issues. These days, modern medicine has identified these toxins as metabolic by-products (wastes) of certain bacterial populations. Many of these less favourable gut microbes produce neuroactive compounds (including neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, histamine, acetylcholine and gamma amino butyric acid, GABA) that directly influence brain activity.

Mental Health Conditions Associated With Poor Gut Health

The composition of the gut microbiome is believed to influence the brain in the following conditions:

• Autism
• Anxiety
• Bi-polar
• Depression
• Insomnia
• Schizophrenia
• Poor concentration, aggression, temper and difficulty relaxing
• Overwhelming sense of tension and pressure
• A vast array of other behavioural issues, such as procrastination, teeth grinding and restlessness to name a few.

Take Away Advice:

• Avoid the over use of antibiotics. Thankfully, this message is becoming louder in mainstream medicine. The overuse of antibiotics is one of the main methods of disrupting and destroying a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary, if there is no other alternative.
• Stress management. Everyone finds different life matters stressful, and some people do not find traditional ‘de-stressing’ activities effective. Firstly, identify what causes you the most stress on a daily basis, and speak to a supportive person about ways you can try to manage this. A prolonged stress response releases stress hormones into our body, which in turn have a direct effect on the balance of bacteria in our gut. You can clearly see the vicious circle here.
• Diet. Specific diets and foods are known to encourage the growth of good bacteria, preventing dysbiosis and even restoring gut health. Examples of foods in this category include prebiotic foods (radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, asparagus, carrots, sweet potato, onions and garlic are all particularly good), probiotic foods (fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, Kyr, kombucha and fermented vegetables, coconut cheese).
• Remove processed sugar and processed foods from your diet. Focus on obtaining natural sugars from fresh vegetables and fruits instead.
• Probiotic therapy can be prescribed for you, and is a very effective way of restoring the health of your microbiome. This course of action is likely necessary for long-term emotional health issues.

Written by Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

References:

1. Carabotti, M., et al. (2015). The Gut Brain Axis: Interactions Between Enteric Microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems. Annals of Gastroenterology. 28(2): 203-209.

2. El Aidy, S. et al. (2014). Immune Modulation of the Brain-Gut Microbe Axis. Frontiers in Microbiology. Evolutionary and Genomic Microbiology. April, 2014. Available at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmicb.2014.00146/full

3. Monteil-Castro, A. et al. (2103). The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Neurobehavioural Correlates, Health and Sociality. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. 7: 70. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791857/

4. Reardon, S. (2014). Gut Brain Link Grabs Neuroscientists. Nature. 515: 7526. Available at: http://www.nature.com/news/gut-brain-link-grabs-neuroscientists-1.16316

5. Schmidt, C. (2015). Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut. Scientific American. Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-health-may-depend-on-creatures-in-the-gut/

Image credit: Nature Reviews Neuroscience

Bioenergetics: The Chemical Conversions of Energy Production

Bioenergetics: The Chemical Conversions of Energy Production

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation: www.mindd.org

The concept of energy for most people on a day-to day basis is an elusive one. It is that longed for health trait, presenting itself swiftly at certain points in our day, then lost as quickly as it was gained. For many individuals with robust good health, they still want more energy. Others simply never have enough, either due to genetic conditions, chronic disease, illness or malnutrition.

While the underlying reasons for lack of energy differ from one person to the next, its synthesis is universal in all human beings. In fact, energy is manufactured in humans via the same chemical reactions used to make energy in all animals, some microorganisms and insects. In the digital age, we have instant access to information to educate ourselves or seek advice on how to have more energy, yet most people still do not attain this goal for their health and well being. It’s not as simple as taking an energy supplement or drink. For decades now, science has known how energy is synthesised by the body. It’s known as bioenergetics, the study of how the body converts food into energy. It is inextricably linked to your nutritional state. Let’s take a look at some of the finer points of bioenergetics.

Energy Currency

Food contains stored energy. When we eat, carbohydrates, lipid (fats) and proteins are broken down to supply energy to every cell of the body. Energy is constantly being used up; it is needed to think, breathe, digest, walk, mount immune responses, maintain heart rate and produce hormones (to name a mere few). Once used up, we need to supply more energy, and so we must eat.

Think of energy like currency; if you spend money and have a zero balance, you need to make money. In biochemistry, this energy currency is actually in the form of a molecule known as Adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This molecule stores huge amounts of energy within specific chemical bonds in its structure. When these bonds are broken, energy is released. To replenish ATP, and put the bonds back together, we must eat. Food is broken down into its basic molecular structure. After digestion, absorption into the bloodstream and delivery to our cells, food molecules are oxidised, broken down and transformed, eventually culminating in the regeneration of ATP. This process continues, from our beginnings as an embryo to the day we take our last breath.

Mitochondria

Any reader of science will know about mitochondria. These microscopic, bean-shaped structures are classified as organelles, which translates to ‘little organs. Organelles are present inside cells; there are several different types and all have highly specialised functions. For mitochondria, their specialist function is energy production.

The inner membrane bestows mitochondria with a highly specialised structure geared specifically for energy production; the highly folded arrangement creates a huge surface area for this to take place. Mitochondria are the site of the common catabolic pathway for ATP production. ‘Common’ means that all foods (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) can enter mitochondria to make energy, and ‘catabolic’ simply means to break down the molecular structures of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in order to yield energy.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are sugars. Lactose (dairy), maltose (grains), sucrose (many foods) and starches (complex carbohydrates) are broken down via digestion to yield the three simplest sugars: fructose, glucose and galactose. These three simple sugars enter cells and are catabolised via a biochemical pathway known as glycolysis, which literally translates to ‘breaking glucose’. This pathway occurs in cells, but outside our mitochondria. Once glycolysis is complete, the final product enters the mitochondria, to begin the journey through the common catabolic pathway.

Interesting fact: when you are hungry and do not eat, your body will access glucose from your liver and skeletal muscle tissue, where we store glucose for times of starvation. Liver and muscle are quickly depleted of glucose if we do not eat.
Lipids

Lipids are an excellent source of energy. While carbohydrates are exclusively used for energy production, lipids have many other important roles to play in the body, and are not always used for energy production. Lipids are also required for cell membrane structure and insulation of nerves.

Dietary lipids (fatty acids) are digested then absorbed into the lymphatic system before entering the blood stream. Upon reaching cells, fatty acids are broken down via the biochemical pathway known as B-oxidation. Like glycolysis, the final product of B-oxidation of fatty acids then enters the common catabolic pathway for energy production.

Interesting fact: as with carbohydrates, your body can access stored lipids during starvation or when energy requirements are high. Lipids are stored in our adipose tissue. The biochemical breakdown of lipids is known as lipolysis
Proteins

Proteins are complex structures, often consisting of thousands of units of amino acids linked and coiled up together. After digestion, larger proteins no longer exist, with free amino acids being absorbed into the blood stream.

It may or may not surprise you that proteins and amino acids are not the body’s first choice of molecule to break down for energy. Like lipids, amino acids have many other roles in the body. Amino acids are needed to build every single protein structure in your body, and the list is exhaustive. Proteins are structural, and form the scaffolding of your hair, skin, bones and teeth. Proteins are globular, forming everything from your blood clotting factors, some hormones through to some neurotransmitters. Amino acids are broken down in cells, and also enter the common catabolic pathway in mitochondria for energy production.

Interesting fact: We really only use proteins as an energy fuel during starvation. Again, our body will access stored protein and use it up, particularly from skeletal muscle.

Micronutrients
Micronutrients (all the vitamins and minerals) are not catabolised to yield energy. Only the macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) can be catabolised by the many chemical reactions of the common catabolic pathway to yield energy. This is not to say micronutrients are not important for energy production. In fact, they are essential. Every step of the common catabolic pathway is catalysed or made more efficient by a specific enzyme at each step. Put simply, enzymes require nutrient co-factors, or they simply do not function. The micronutrients essential for the common catabolic pathway include vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and the minerals magnesium, iron and sulphur.

In order to make and replenish energy, all of the following needs to be in place:

  • Consumption of food. You must eat to make energy, you must eat to live.
  • A great diet. All diets supply carbohydrate, protein and lipids in various proportions. Only great diets supply the micronutrient vitamins and minerals to help break them down.
  • Good digestion. You are what you eat, but even more so, you are what you absorb. We must absorb all nutrients well in order to deliver them to the blood stream and our cells.
  • Good genetics. Unfortunately, our genes control all the enzymes for the various pathways described above. Some genetic diseases directly affect specific enzymes of glycolysis, or the common catabolic pathway. Energy production is compromised, sometimes very severely in these genetic conditions. In rare situations, mitochondria themselves are not functioning properly. This specific set of genetic conditions is known as mitochondrial disorders.
  • Trying to pinpoint why you are low in energy may seem complex, but if you do not have a rare genetic condition, it’s actually rather simple. It’s a currency. If you use it, you must replenish it with food and rest. Simply eat well, with a diet high in micronutrients. Focus on having a healthy gut, not just over a quick detox or cleanse, but for the long term. Not only will you experience robust energy levels, but robust good health.

References

Ball, Hill and Scott. Introduction to Biochemistry: General, Organic and Biological, First Ed.

Metabolic Disorders: Part II

 

Metabolic Disorders: Part Two

 Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation: www.midd.org

 In Part One of this article, the breadth of metabolic disorders was discussed. The important take away points from Part One included the following:

  • Metabolism is the sum total of all chemical reactions in the human body. Referring to metabolism by a simple reference to weight loss and weight gain is not entirely correct.
  • Metabolism consists of thousands of chemical reactions, where chemical entities are either synthesized for the body (anabolism), or broken down by the body (catabolism).
  • Metabolic reactions are accomplished by enzymes. Functionality of these enzymes is critical to your health, and is governed by your genes.

Treatment of Metabolic Disorders

As discussed in part one, the vast majority of metabolic disorders are genetic. They are heritable and exceptionally atypical. Most are autosomal recessive conditions, meaning that an affected child would need to inherit two copies of a faulty gene, one from each parent. Each parent would be a carrier of the faulty gene, and would likely be unaware of their genetic carrier status. Each carrier parent has one functional copy of the gene, and one faulty copy. The functional gene copy will correctly synthesize its enzyme product and compensate for the faulty gene + enzyme. No signs or symptoms of disease would be present for the parents.

The autosomal recessive inheritance pattern of metabolic disorders does prove problematic for prevention. Most parents are unaware they are carriers of specific genetic mutations, and the likelihood of having a child with a partner carrying the same mutation is exceedingly rare; too rare for pre-natal genetic screening of all babies to be necessary or feasible. In reality, the genetic mutation would have occurred many generations ago, and has been passed on through families, often undetected. Additionally, there are literally hundreds of metabolic disorders, and all require their own unique treatment approach; there is no blanket clinical protocol for treatment.

If a metabolic disorder is inherited, treatment options usually follow this clinical pattern:

  • If a specific food, drug or amino acid cannot be metabolized properly, its intake must be reduced or completely eliminated.
  • Enzymatic replacement of the faulty enzyme. This is only an option if enzymatic replacement (usually in the form of a medication) of the faulty enzyme actually exists.
  • Removal of toxic substances that accumulate via the faulty metabolic pathway.
  • Specific diets can remove specific macro or micronutrients that are not metabolized correctly.
  • Specific micronutrient supplements can support faulty metabolic pathways, depending on the specific metabolic disease in question.
  • Specific drug treatments to detoxify the blood of toxic metabolic by-product may be possible, depending on the disease in question.

As you can appreciate, altering diets to such a significant extent to reduce the possibility of other deficiencies and to prevent further illness requires the assistance of medical and nutritional experts.

 Prevention of Metabolic Disorders

Searching for information on the prevention of metabolic diseases is often fraught with frustration, as most sources will lead you to information regarding how to combat and prevent the metabolic syndrome (i.e., the cluster of conditions involving insulin resistance, obesity, dyslipidaemia and type II diabetes mellitus). Additionally, metabolic disorders are inherited, thus prevention is often deemed to be impossible, as they are inherited genetic disorders.

 Despite this, there are ways of eating and living life that are known to protect DNA and enhance the correct replication of DNA (thus preventing further mutations and even providing the healthiest genome possible to your future off spring). Whilst they may not prevent 100% of metabolic disorders in affected families, these strategies seek to safeguard the general health of all individuals and support healthy genes, from their replication through to gene expression. Additionally, well functioning organs and tissues will support treatments for metabolic disorders, and will have all affected individuals well placed to experience the best health the possibly can. This is the science of nutrigenomics; the “Genome-Food Interface”.

  • Cease all cigarette smoking and address excessive alcohol consumption. Both are known to have detrimental effects on our genes and how they function. Seek help to find ways to abstain from cigarettes permanently.
  • Many nutrients regulate gene expression, including folate, zinc, EPA and DHA to name just a few. Seek assistance from a health professional specializing in clinical nutrition and wholefood eating to formulate eating plans high in genome protecting nutrients.
  • Phytochemicals such as flavonoids, carotenoids, coumarins and phytosterols are also known to regulate gene expression. This is simple; eat lots of fruit and vegetables in abundance, everyday. This is especially important for both men and women in their reproductive years.
  • Healthy levels of folate, vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin E, retinol, and calcium are linked to decreased levels of DNA damage; riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and biotin are associated with an increase in DNA damage to the same extent observed with occupational exposure to genotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Do not self-prescribe supplements and gather information from integrative health professionals before considering supplementation.

 Where to seek assistance

 Many countries employ newborn screening programs to investigate the presence of metabolic disorders at birth. For example, screening for PKU forms part of the newborn screening panel. The diseases chosen for screening at birth have met certain clinical criteria for their inclusion in screening; the testing is reliable and non-invasive, and the treatment is straightforward and life saving. Many metabolic conditions do not manifest clinical signs at birth and are diagnosed in infancy or even later once evident signs and symptoms appear. In most cases, infants and children will be under the care of a specialist Paediatrician, and one who sub-specializes in specific metabolic conditions.

 Children and adults with metabolic disorders will require lifelong care and can often become ill very quickly. It is essential that they receive care from both their medical specialists and ideally an integrative doctor with their allied health teams. The MINDD Foundation is an excellent resource for locating doctors, nutritionists, naturopaths, pharmacists, dieticians and nurses experienced in the treatment of these rare and high-care diseases.

 “There is increasing evidence that genome instability, in the absence of overt exposure to genotoxicants, is itself a sensitive marker of nutritional deficiency”.

–Michael Fenech, CSIRO Genome Health and Nutrigenomics Laboratory

 References

 

  1. Fernandes, John; Saudubray, Jean-Marie; Berghe, Georges van den (2013-03-14). Inborn Metabolic Diseases: Diagnosis and Treatment. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 4. ISBN9783662031476
  2. Jorde, et al. 2006. Carbohydrate metabolism. Medical Genetics. 3rd edition. Chapter 7. Biochemical genetics: Disorders of metabolism. pp139-142
  3. Meade, N. (2007). Nutrigenomics: The Genome-Food Interface. Environmental Health Perspectives. 115 (12): A582-A589.
  4. Ogier de Baulny H, Saudubray JM (2002). “Branched-chain organic acidurias”. Semin Neonatol. 7 (1): 65–74.
  5. Rosemeyer, Helmut (March 2004). “The Chemodiversity of Purine as a Constituent of Natural Products”. Chemistry & Biodiversity 1 (3): 361–401.
  6. Mark A. Sperling (25 April 2008). Pediatric Endocrinology E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 35.
  7. Vernon, H. (2015). Inborn Errors of Metabolism. Advances in Diagnosis and Therapy. JAMA Pediatrics. 169(8): 778-782

 

 

 

 

 

The Digestive System: Revealing Hidden Facts of your Overall Health

 

The Digestive System: Revealing Hidden Facts of Your Overall Health.

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, ND

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation: www.mindd.org

For most people, the digestive system serves as the repository for delivering food to the body, and eliminating waste. We may never give thought to the impressive amount of physiological effort and biochemical work necessary for this to take effect. Most people are not troubled by major digestive pathologies. We enjoy our food, and we get on with life.

Do other small ailments plague your everyday experiences of good health and wellbeing? Are these complaints you simply put up with, or are they major health conditions? Would you feel better if you had more energy? Is your immune system not as resilient as it should be? Are you prone to atopic conditions, such as allergies and eczema? Do you have signs of endocrine dysfunction, fertility issues, or autoimmune disease? Is your mental and emotional health in need of support? All of these are linked to poor digestive health. This list reads like a marketing campaign for the latest ‘cure all’ supplement. However, there is good reason for this; basic scientific principles explain exactly why digestive health is critical to the health of an entire organism. Ask any Naturopath, Integrative Doctor or holistic Nutritionist what is the most important system in the human body and you are most likely to hear the same response: The Digestive System. It is why the MINDD Foundation is so notably focused on how to attain and maintain enduring Digestive health, at any age.

Anatomy and Physiology

The human digestive tract is purpose built for every aspect of digestion. The anatomy of the digestive tract actually changes as it descends from the oral cavity, all the way down to the rectum and anus:

  • Oral cavity: a cavity lined with a thick and stratified epithelium, perfectly suited to with standing mechanical and harsh pressures from chewing and swallowing. The oral mucosa is supported heavily by salivary glands and blood vessels. Saliva is a complex fluid of water, electrolytes, mucous, antibodies, and digestive enzymes. Signs of poor digestive health in the oral cavity include halitosis (bad breath), some dental problems, ulcerations, oral infections and abnormal coatings on the tongue
  • Oesophagus: again lined by a stratified epithelium that secretes mucous and has a high cell turn over of desquamation. This desquamation or cell ‘sloughing’ is necessary in the mouth and oesophagus to replace tissue damaged by temperature extremes, mechanical and chemical trauma. Smooth muscle layers facilitate swallowing and peristalsis. Signs and symptoms of poor digestive health in the oesophagus include acid reflux, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, difficult or painful swallowing and inflammation (oesophagitis).
  • Stomach: a highly specialised and thick muscular organ. Mucous must be secreted here to protect the stomach from the low pH of gastric secretions (the low acidic pH here is fundamental to healthy and thorough digestion). Muscle layers are thicker in the stomach, to facilitate strong contractions for the mixing and churning required for both mechanical and chemical digestion. Signs and symptoms of poor digestion originating in the stomach include acid reflux and excessive belching. Achlorhydria (low stomach acid) is rather prevalent in the population. Gastric ulcers and gastritis are another well-known diseases, often induced by diet, stress and infection.
  • Small Intestine: the site of nutrient absorption. Specialised anatomical modification of the mucosa (known as villi, microvilli and lacteals) facilitate the absorption of monosaccharides (simple sugars), amino acids (from proteins) and fatty acids (from lipids). Significant amounts of enzyme secretion to facilitate chemical digestion. Facilitated by smooth muscle contractions for peristalsis. Vast surface area of villi and microvilli network to enhance absorption. Heavily influenced by the health of the nervous system, via the enteric plexus. Influences the health and functionality of the immune system, via gut associated lymphoid tissue located predominantly in the ileum, but also found in other areas of the digestive tract. Signs of poor digestive health and disease here include allergies, atopy, Coeliac disease, malabsorption, obesity and IBS, through to major immune, developmental and mental health conditions.
  • Appendix: the forgotten and neglected appendage of the digestive tract. New research is revealing that the appendix might be a reservoir for beneficial species of good/healthy gut bacteria. It may also be involved in immune responses, hence the volatile reactions noted with appendicitis.
  • Large Intestine: essential functions include the absorption of water and many vitamins. Digested, unabsorbed food is converted to faecal material. Thick walls of smooth muscle facilitate powerful contractions for the defecation reflex. Gut bacteria perform fermentation reactions on complex sugars indigestible to humans, helping to release nutrients from these foods such as vitamins, B1, B2, B6, B12 and vitamin K. Constipation, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea are all multifactorial in nature, but indicate problems with the large intestine. Other diseases of poor large intestinal health include ulcerative colitis, and any significant signs such as blood and mucous in the stool.

The microbiome

 No discussion of human digestive health is complete without mention of the microbiome. The human microbiome consists of all the genes of the microorganisms living in and on the human body. The vast majority of these microbes reside in our digestive system. Think of the human microbiome as the microbial counterpart of the human genome. Without question, the advances in this area of medical science are incredibly important to health; we will likely see many future chronic disease treatment protocols based around gut health and the microbiome. Obesity, allergies, cancer, autoimmune disease, depression and even Alzheimer’s’ disease all show links to unhealthy gut microbes and a poor quality microbiome. The microbiome population changes rapidly in response to the type of diet we eat, thus nutritional medicine and nutritional counselling is paramount to gut health. For a recent MINDD article on the specifics of the human microbiome, including what to eat, please see www.midd.org

 All disease begins in the gut

“All disease begins in the Gut” – Hippocrates

The iconic figure of both ancient and modern medicine coined this phrase over 2000 years ago, yet it seems nothing could be truer today. In a recent book (Gut: The Inside Story of Our body’s Most Under-rated organ), doctor and scientist Giulia Enders explains that we need to stop treating people as having skin conditions, mental health conditions, immune conditions, etc., and start recognising skin, emotional, immune and a host of other pathologies as patients with intestinal problems. This has indeed been the approach of Naturopathic medicine for thousands of years; fortunately, modern medicine is beginning to accept this approach and provide valuable evidence to support naturopathic and integrative health protocols.

 

Top 5 take away clinical pearls for gut health

  1. Try not to consume large amounts of liquids with meals. Sips of water are OK to as you get used to this change. Copious amounts of water with food dilute the digestive secretions that contain the acids, hormones and enzymes required to digest food thoroughly and correctly. Adequate water is often secreted by the digestive tract as you digest food, so the need to add more is unnecessary.
  2. As much as you can, chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Take time to eat your meals, at least 20 minutes. Far too many people ‘inhale’ a large meal in less than 5 minutes. Preparing, smelling, touching and tasting food as you cook is incredibly strong sensory stimulation for your brain; the process of digestion has literally begun before you take your first bite. A note to parents of young children: it is hard to eat slowly when you have no time. At least attempt to do this one meal per day. Sit down and enjoy 30 minutes of actual slow eating with your family, at as many meals as you can.
  3. Try not to eat when under stress, or address any chronic stress issues. Under the effects of stress hormones and nerve impulse transmission, blood is diverted away from digestive organs during the stress response. Digestion is deemed unnecessary when other organs such as skeletal muscle and the heart need high blood circulation during the stress response. This lack of blood circulation to digestive organs is incredibly counterproductive to good digestion, diminishes peristaltic activity of smooth muscle decreases secretions involved in chemical digestion, absorption and transport of nutrients across the gut wall in to the blood stream and lymphatics.
  4. Make healthy defecation a priority. This may seem crude or embarrassing to consider, but it is essential to your health on every level. Good quality, healthy stools (faeces) are simple to achieve with the right diet and lifestyle choices. We should all pass 1-3 formed stools each day. If you are regularly constipated, have frequent diarrhoea, loose motions, blood or mucous in the stool, it is vital you seek help from a Naturopath, Nutritionist or Doctor to receive assistance on normalising your bowels through diet and lifestyle practices. Familiarise yourself with the Bristol Stool chart, an insightful and incredibly simple piece of health and medical education.
  5. Consider your diet and where it needs to be overhauled. Diets for healthy digestion are not a one-size approach; the diets we all need for gut health are often unique and tailored to suit our individual needs. Certain food groups may require elimination. To avoid nutrient deficiencies, this should be done with the guidance of a health professional. In general, we need to keep very hydrated between meals with water, fruits, vegetables and herbal tissanes. We need to eat complex carbohydrates and fibre. We need to look at our medications; some digestive problems are a known side effect of specific pharmaceuticals. Reaching out to an integrative health practitioner for a prescription of probiotic strains for your specific health needs is wise. This is especially true if you were born via caesarean section, could not be breastfed, or have had a long history of antibiotic use.

References

  1. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The Human Microbiome. The Genetic Science Learning Centre, University of Utah. Available at: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/microbiome/credits/
  2. Anders, R. (2011). Functional Histology of the Gastrointestinal Tract. Lecture. Johns Hopkins Pathology. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/mcp/Education/300.713%20Lectures/GI.pdf
  3. Janeway, CA Jr.; et al. (2001). “The mucosal immune system”. Immunobiology. New York: Garland Science. 10-13.
  4. Kuo, B. (2006). Oesophagus- anatomy and development. GI Motility online. Available at: http://www.nature.com/gimo/contents/pt1/full/gimo6.html
  5. Tiwari, M. (2011). Science Behind Human Saliva. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine. Jan-Jun; 2(1): 53-58.
  6. Zahid, Aliya (2004-04-01). “The vermiform appendix: not a useless organ”. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons–Pakistan: JCPSP 14 (4): 256–258.

Neurological Networks: powered by Nutrition and Lifestyle

 

Neurological Networks: Powered by Nutrition and Lifestyle

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation: www.midd.org

 Broadly speaking, neurological conditions are disorders of both the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (all body nerves) nervous systems. This collection of conditions is so vast, many sub-categories of disorders exist. Mental health conditions, dementia’s, epilepsy, acquired brain and spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, autism and learning difficulties are all forms of neurological illness, but each is very different. The aetiologies (causes) of these diseases represent some of the most complicated clinical situations for modern medicine to manage.

Despite the intricacies of these pathologies, some are renowned for presenting in infancy and childhood. Others present in young adulthood. Some conditions are endured by individuals their whole lives, only to receive some clinical insight and solutions from integrative health and medicine later in life. This article will discuss neurological conditions that predominantly present in childhood. Each has great propensity for healing and reversal through the biomedical approach of nutritional, lifestyle and integrative medicine. Neurological health is a central pillar supporting the work of the MINDD Foundation.

Scientific literature is accumulating more and more research that children with the conditions listed below are deficient in micronutrients essential to cognitive, mental and behavioural health. Without treatment interventions, these conditions do persist in to adulthood.

Conditions associated with compromised neurological development:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning and language delays/impairment: including dyslexia and dyspraxia
  • Visual processing delay
  • Auditory processing delay
  • Other sensory processing disorders
  • Gross and fine motor skill delay
  • Socialisation and emotional problems
  • Behavioural concerns: including aggression, bed wetting, short tempers and poor concentration

Any of the above conditions or situations represents signs that a) thorough routine medical investigation is required b) illness is present and change is required c) nutritional and possibly allied behavioural therapies are essential.

Neurological conditions linked to mental and emotional health:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Objective Defiance Disorder (ODD)
  • Pyrrol Disorder
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Compromised Neurotransmitter Biochemistry:

In a previous article published by The MINDD Foundation, the entire range of human neurotransmitters implicated in neurological conditions were discussed. A link to this article can be found here. Key neurotransmitters discussed include Acetyl Choline, Adrenalin, Dopamine, Gamma Amino Butyric Acid, Glutamine, Histamine, Noradrenalin and Serotonin.

 Key nutrients for neurological health:

  • Vitamins: A, C, D, E. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12.
  • Minerals: Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Calcium, Iron, Chromium and Selenium
  • Amino acids: Tyrosine, Taurine, Glycine, Methionine, Glutathione, and Glutamine
  • Essential fatty Acids: Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA’s): required for the structure of phosphatidylcholine, sphingosine and other lipids essential for building healthy neural tissues. Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s): Alpha linolenic acid, Eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) are all forms of omega 3 fatty acids. These are abundant in brain tissue and breast milk

Problematic environmental substances and contaminants:

  • Lead (Pb): this heavy metal can substitute for calcium ions. Lead is particularly toxic to the developing brain.
  • Mercury (Hg): methylmercury bioaccululates in the food chain. Degree of exposure dictates the severity if neurologic issues, ranging from infant mortality to very subtle developmental delays.
  • Arsenic (As): Inorganic arsenic (sodium arsenite). Contamination of ground water with As is a significant environmental health issue for some countries.
  • Pesticides: for example, organophosphates such as DDT.
  • Solvents: used in everything from cosmetics, pharmaceuticals to household cleaners, paints and varnishes.

Breast milk as a contamination source

It goes without saying that if you can breastfeed, breast milk is best for babies. However, a mother is exposed to countless toxic substances in the environment, the home, the workplace, her beauty and hygiene products and her diet. Many environmental contaminants known to trigger neurologic problems are lipid soluble and are stored in adipose tissue, thus breast tissue and breast milk are potential sources of contaminant exposure for infants. Mothers must plan for reducing her toxin exposure while both pregnant and breast-feeding. Ideally, this would start in the very early pre-conception months.

What you can do immediately:

The take-away advice that you can implement today, without immediately seeking advice from an integrative health professional is as follows:

  1. Just Eat Real Food! Keep things simple; avoid anything that is a false, manufactured food-like substance
  2. Beware of preservatives: get to know food labels, or simply avoid any food with a very long shelf life.
  3. Avoid processed foods: they are deplete of micronutrients, difficult to digest and offer no real nutritional value for building health.
  4. Smart cooking methods: including fermenting, and choice of cooking oils, fats and liquids. Learn how to make healthy staples and take classes.
  5. Ready made foods: avoid these, as they often contain preservatives or additives that may not require a food label.
  6. Eliminate packaged foods: these often fall in to the processed, preservative laden category. You will become very savvy regarding packaged foods as you learn more. Healthy kitchen and pantry classes can really help you here.

In theory, these changes can be made immediately at your next meal, or at your next food-shopping trip. In reality, some individuals and families need to make changes in a step-by-step fashion in order for changes to be lasting. The important point here is to make life-long, permanent changes. Discuss these changes with your family, and select which change will be the easiest to implement first. Set a realistic time frame for change (it may be a few weeks to a couple of months). Researching new places to shop and source food will be necessary. If you do need to progress to an Integrative health practitioner, much of the challenging diet change work will already be done. Most people notice enormous, positive changes in their children’s and family’s health by simply eating according to these principles. Often, the improvement in general health assists in revealing the precise clinical issue requiring attention, as opposed to being concealed by many lower grade or sub-clinical health issues.

 

Conclusion

Cellular and digestive health improves and can be recovered via targeted nutritional therapies and integrative medicine. The improvements in health are a physiological and biochemical cascade; the enhanced nutrient utilisation supports neurotransmission in the brain. These positive changes go on to further support allied and behavioural therapies. The human brain is incredibly plastic; very much so when we are young. A healthy diet, home and environment support’s the cells and structures needed for neural plasticity to reveal its full potential.

 References

  1. Sanders, T., Liu, Y., Buchner, V., & Tchounwou, P. B. (2009). Neurotoxic Effects and Biomarkers of Lead Exposure: A Review. Reviews on Environmental Health, 24(1), 15–45.
  2. Castoldi A, Coccini T, Manzo L. (2003). Neurotoxic and molecular effects of methylmercury in humans. Reviews on Environmental Health. Jan-Mar;18(1):19-31.
  3. DeFuria, J. and Shea, T. (2007). Arsenic inhibits neurofilament transport and induces perikaryal accumulation of phosphorylated neurofilaments: roles of JNK and GSK-3beta. Journal of Brain Research. Nov 21; 1181: 74-82.
  4. Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Gomez, A. G. (2011). The Influence of Dietary Factors in Central Nervous System Plasticity and Injury Recovery. PM & R : The Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation, 3(6 0 1), S111–S116.
  5. Dick, F. D. (2006). Solvent neurotoxicity. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 63(3), 221–226
  6. Rosales, F. J., Reznick, J. S., & Zeisel, S. H. (2009). Understanding the Role of Nutrition in the Brain & Behavioral Development of Toddlers and Preschool Children: Identifying and Overcoming Methodological Barriers. Nutritional Neuroscience, 12(5), 190–202.
  7. Nyaradi, A., Li, J., Hickling, S., Foster, J., & Oddy, W. H. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 97.