A Healthy Gut Means A Healthy Brain
October 23, 2013

A Healthy Gut Means A Healthy Brain

Gut health has had much attention lately. From the fecal transplants to simply understanding probiotic’s role in gut flora, I have heard several stories on the radio and read several more online. I came across one such article on ABC News about gut health pertaining specifically to anxiety disorders and other mental health issues. The article shows that perhaps there is a greater relationship between healthy gut flora and certain psychiatric disorders like anxiety.

The article gave several examples of how improving the microbiome can improve the brain. In the words of the article, “scientists think there may be a link between what’s in your gut and what’s in your head, suggesting that bacteria may play a role in disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia and autism.”

One example of this example came in Mary. As the article explains:

Dr. James Greenblatt, a Boston-area psychiatrist, had a puzzling case: a teenager arrived in his office with severe obsessiveā€“compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an array of digestive problems.

Greenblatt first did a simple urine test for the metabolite HPHPA, the chemical byproduct of the clostridia bacteria, and found that it was elevated. He put her on a course of high-powered probiotics to boost her good bacteria, followed by antibiotics, and her levels began to “dramatically” go down, he said.

After six months, Mary’s symptoms began to disappear. And by a year, they were gone. Today, three years later, Mary is a senior in high school and has no sign of either mental disorder.”

Mary’s parents went to Greenblatt after years of trying to help their daughter with traditional pharmacology. Yet, simply balancing her gut flora led to improvement in her behaviors and digestive system.

Mary is not the only example the ABC News article uses to show the connection of gut health and brain functioning. The article also spoke of the difference in gut flora between thin and fat individuals. The thought is understanding how a thin person’s gut flora works will help with weight loss for overweight and obese individuals. Furthermore, the article gave an example of how improving gut health helped one individual named Adam with ADHD. Since the age of 5, he suffered from ADHD along with mood disorders and anxiety. He was treated with a surfeit of prescription medications only to have his symptoms worsen. At the very least, the medications did nothing to help improve his health. The article continues:

“For many years, he was treated by a well-respected pharmacologist and a therapist, according to Johnson. But prescription medications were not working well enough, and by the time he was 14, his family turned to integrative medicine looking for a “broader range of tools.” His urine and blood tests found a bacterial imbalance.

Last year, he was taken off all medications, put on a special diet and treated with probiotics. “Friends, family and his teacher were amazed,” said his mother.

Today, Adam is in honors classes, playing clarinet in the band and doing well.”

Of course, some doctors and scientists are still skeptical because there is not enough research to support this connection absolutely. Dr. Greenblatt and many of his colleagues are beginning to recognize the importance of gut flora health especially since humans carry five pounds of bacteria in their guts alone. Clearly gut health would be important then. ABC News reports, “Greenblatt said he had treated hundreds of patients for dysbiosis, a condition of microbial imbalances on or inside the body…He said he checks every patient for HPHPA with a simple organic acid urine test before moving ahead with medications to treat symptoms…’Eight out of 10 people are fine,’ he said. ‘But in the two patients where it’s elevated, it can have profound effects on the nervous system.'”

I know that in my own life, probiotics have saved me. I have known many individuals who have benefited from probiotics. If there is indeed a link between gut health and mental health, then let’s confirm that and start working on improving both.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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