Lifestyle Medicine & Wellness Blog

When Your Gut is a Jungle Instead of a Pasture

One of my mantras in Functional Medicine is that everything is connected!  It’s the beauty and the challenge of working in this field – connecting the dots to the hidden root causes of the symptoms clients are suffering with.  In allopathic medicine, the search for cause of the symptom has historically been to focus within that specific body system.  So, for example, for problems with heart function we looked at the cardiovascular system, or for skin issues the focus was dermatology.  Similarly, for imbalance in mood such as depression and anxiety, the focus was on the brain/mind and not the body.  But, as our knowledge expands, a clearer picture of the mind-body connection is evolving.  We understand that for most of our symptoms (mind or body) there can be multiple contributing factors, so looking at the rise in depression and anxiety over the last few decades triggers the question as to what the pieces of the puzzle are.  Although sometimes prescribed for conditions other than depression or anxiety, the use of anti-depressants rose between 1999 and 2014, a whopping 64%. In 2017, a study looking at the previous 30 days noted that 12.7% of people had taken an anti-depressant in the past month. (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers).  The need for, and use of anti-depressants seems to continue to increase, which begs the question WHY?  Could this rapid rise in the use of anti-depressants be somehow linked to a microbiome imbalance in our guts?

Hippocrates once said, “All health comes from the gut” and we understand more today than ever just how true that statement is.  There are many things that can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut.  One of the most common and powerful disruptors of a healthy microbiome - antibiotics.  What many people don't know is that the disruption of the gut microbiome by antibiotics can trigger mood disruption.  In a 2015 study looking at multiple types of antibiotics, it was found that even one dose of any of the antibiotic groups was associated with a higher risk of depression, while recurrent antibiotic use increased the participants risk factors even more. A similar observation was made with antibiotic use and anxiety. 2

Our guts are host to a balance of good and bad bacteria. In a person with a healthy microbiome balance, the good bugs keep the bad bugs in check and live together in harmony, happy like the cows in this pasture. They not only live in harmony; they support each other and work together.  This is called symbiosis.  Healthy bacteria have many functions that create health, including producing many of our B vitamins and vitamin K; producing something called SCFA (short chain fatty acids), which are the fuel for the health of parts of the lining of the intestine; they are anti-inflammatory; and in several ways they temper the overgrowth of the bad bacteria in the gut.  Good bacteria strengthen our immune function and help with our ability to break down our foodstuffs for healthy digestion and then assimilation of nutrients into our physiology.

Antibiotics do double duty in our gut - killing off the bad bugs within our system that are causing infection, and, like the companies leading the deforestation of our worlds jungles, the antibiotics don’t discriminate, and they eliminate the beneficial bacteria as well.  Once these good bacteria are gone, it’s easier for our bodies to experience an overgrowth of bad bacteria – this is called “dysbiosis” in the gut, which leads to a cascade of gut (and non-gut, or systemic) issues, including inflammation and leaky gut syndrome.

Many people connect gut issues like gas and bloating, cramping, indigestion, stomach aches, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, and more to Leaky Gut and dysbiosis BUT don’t understand that dysbiosis can also play a large role in our mood, causing emotional issues like depression and anxiety.

How exactly can this overgrowth of bad bacteria in our gut alter our mood?

When bad bacteria (such as SIBO and candida) take over, they produce compounds called aldehydes and phenols.  These compounds slow specific genetic pathways that produce our neurotransmitters and thus result in mood altering physiology. Specifically, they can slow down the genetic pathways that make serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that make us feel “happy”, calm and strong.  When these neurotransmitters are too high or too low, anxiety, depression and mood dysregulation can result.  

This GUT-BRAIN connection, as it’s called in functional medicine, is an integral part in understanding how to heal ourselves for better mental health. Depression, anxiety, negative feelings/moods, brain fog, poor memory, and confusion are all brain symptoms associated with dysbiosis and “Leaky Gut Syndrome”.  The balance (or imbalance) of our gut microbes affects our genes; which affects our hormone and neurotransmitter production; which then affects our emotions.  Our emotions rest in our mind and result in what we feel in our body and these feelings affect what we do and how we live!  Healing your gut can change your life!

1  (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-rise-of-all-purpose-antidepressants/

2 J Clin Psychiatry. 2015 Nov;76(11):1522-8. PMID: 26580313 

3 MBio. 2015 Nov 10 :6(6).pii: e)!^(#-15. PMID: 26556275

 

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At Optimal Health Solutions, a functional medicine nutrition practice, Nancy Lark, MMS, MESS, RDN, FAARFM, ACCBHC, uses a systems biology approach to assessing imbalance in all the body systems (because they are all connected). She works to identify the root cause of those imbalances, then supports and steadies those systems by giving the body what it needs to balance and heal.  For brain work, she also utilizes additional assessment tools of the Daniel Amen Clinics for Brain Health (ACCBHC- Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach) to identify over or under functioning parts of the brain, and then apply strategies and nutritional therapeutic support to optimize brain function.

Nancy Lark is currently accepting new patients! Contact her today and she can help you find the root causes of your symptoms, connect the dots to your health timeline and create an individualized plan to optimize your health today!

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