Deeper look at the brain gut connection

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If you are suffering from chronic stress, sluggishness, brain fog, memory issues, anxiety, depression, stress, sleepless nights, lack of focus, feeling overwhelmed, headaches or ADHD, reading this page could CHANGE YOUR LIFE! I say this because here at Integrative Wellness Centers, we’ve helped thousands of patients overcome these and other health issues and regain their wellness by treating the body as a whole and looking for the ROOT CAUSE of health problems instead of masking symptoms with drugs. If you’ve read our first article on brain health and the brain-gut connection and are ready to learn more, you’re in the right place. (If you haven’t read our other article, I urge you to do so first by clicking here, then please come back to this page to further your knowledge.)

One of the biggest reasons we’re so successful in treating patients is because when someone’s brain health is suffering we know to begin looking at the gut for answers. Most people think when your gut isn’t working properly, you feel it in the form of constipation, IBS, diarrhea, upset stomach or slow digestion. And while this certainly can be true, gut issues often manifest themselves in other ways throughout the body — including hair, skin and nail problems, sinus issues, ear ringing, headaches and weight gain — and especially in the brain! Most doctors either don’t know about the all-important BRAIN-GUT CONNECTION or fail to take it into account when treating patients. This is a complete travesty because if you don’t focus on what’s causing the problem, you will never truly be well!

With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into the brain-gut connection.


As you probably know by now, your digestive system’s health and brain’s health are intricately connected. Believe it or not, your GI system, aka “the second brain,” has more neurons than the brain, and its own nervous system called the “enteric nervous system.” Your gut is where also where the majority of neurotransmitters responsible for mood and energy, such as serotonin and dopamine, is made, and where most of your immune system is located.

As you can see, the gut does much more than just digest food! The gut and brain are in constant communication. We all know the brain communicates with the entire body, including the gut, but now we also know that the gut sends messages to the brain, too! Research has shown that the gut communicates with the brain and central nervous system through neural, hormonal and immune pathways. (1)

The gut is also home to the majority of an amazing complex system of bacteria in our bodies that’s unique in each and every one of us known as the microbiome. The microbiome is now widely recognized by the medical world as a distinct organ. An unhealthy microbiome has been linked to autoimmune diseases, brain health issues, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

The effects of the microbiome are far-reaching in the body. Research has shown that the microbiome affects the brain’s physiological, behavioral and cognitive functions by producing hormones, immune factors, and metabolites, and that altering the gut’s microbiome may improve or even cure brain diseases. (2)

Currently, researchers are focusing on how changes in the gut microbiome might play a role in brain issues including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, and how different types of psychological stress can in turn affect the composition of the gut microbiota. (3)

The National Institute of Mental Health even recently launched a special research project to study how the microbiome might impact brain health and disorders. (4). The brain-gut axis has truly become a focus of neuroscience!

Knowing this, it’s easy to see that if your digestive system is out of whack, chances are your brain will suffer, too. By the same token, when your brain has been stressed from abuse, neglect, anxiety, worry, stress, etc., your GI system is in turn affected. You can see what a viscous circle this becomes.

So, how do you know if you might be suffering from poor gut health? Signs include:

* Autoimmune diseases

* Anxiety and/or depression

* Lack of energy and/or motivation, brain fog

* Trouble sleeping

* Difficulty concentrating and/or ADHD

* Hormonal issues

* Headaches

* Digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, IBS, SIBO and gastroparesis

* Skin, hair and nail issues

The good news is you don’t have to continue suffering, because we now know the main ROOT CAUSES of poor gut and brain health and have ways of testing and treating them! Let’s take a look.

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1. Leaky gut syndrome. Normally the cells in the walls of our intestines form nice, tight junctures that keep harmful toxins and pathogens – things we don’t want circulating through our body – locked inside the digestive system until they are eliminated. However, when gaps develop between these cells due to a variety of factors including poor diet, food sensitivities, stress, antibiotic use and lack of Vitamin D, the intestines become permeable and allow undigested food particles and substances to get into the bloodstream. Your body’s immune system knows these substances don’t belong there, so it “attacks” them, leading to widespread inflammation, which in turn can cause any of the above-listed symptoms. (You can read more about leaky gut here.)

Once the body’s immune system is in overdrive, it becomes crucial to repair the gut so the immune system and resulting inflammation can calm down. It’s also crucial to address any other pathogens that could be circulating through the body’s system. (We’ll discuss that in a minute.) At our clinics, we can use a Food Sensitivity Panel and other tests to look for leaky gut, then utilize an individualized approach that can include dietary changes, supplements and other methods to facilitate gut healing.

2. Candida, parasites, bugs and bacteria. OK, that sounds really yucky and scary, but don’t be too alarmed. Candida albicans is a fungus most of us have in our bodies that’s found in the GI systems, mouth and vaginas of most healthy people, and is usually harmless. (5) However, candida is very opportunistic and can multiply rapidly and grow out of control if certain conditions exist. These conditions include eating a carb-heavy diet, being under stress or taking antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids. Candida overgrowth can lead to a host of symptoms that includes GI issues, menstrual problems, fatigue, depression, headaches, anxiety, depression, brain fog, muscle and joint aches…the list goes on and on. (6) Candida overgrowth and leaky gut often go hand-in-hand.

Parasites, bugs and harmful bacteria can also cause poor gut and brain health. These pathogens can be encountered through undercooked meat and fish, contaminated food or vegetables or drinking or swimming in unclean water.

And, guess what? Traditional medical doctors rarely test for any of these things when patients come to them suffering from poor health! But, as we’ve established, if these culprits are affecting your GI health, your brain and body health will suffer as well. If we suspect you are suffering from candida, parasites, bugs or bacteria, we have an array of tests we can utilize to find out exactly what’s causing the problem so we can effectively treat it. The stool test you are seeing below is from a patient, we will call her Brenda, who complained of insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome which caused episodes of diarrhea and constipation. She was told by her doctors that her digestive testing was all normal except for her colonoscopy, where they could see some inflammation in her colon, but couldn’t tell her why, so they prescribed IBS medication. As you can see from the stool test we ordered there were lots of reasons for the inflammation. Why had her doctors told her everything was normal?  Because it was, according to their testing. The problem is many hospitals or local labs use outdated microscopic evaluation of stool samples to detect parasites or worms. This testing has many false negatives. Our testing uses a lab that does DNA/PCR analysis. This test has been found to be 3,000 times more sensitive because it uses a DNA analysis to detect bugs and bacteria. It doesn’t only detect worms and parasites, but can be used to detect overgrowth of bacteria, H. pylori and fungi/yeast.  As you can see below, Brenda’s testing showed a lot of overgrowth and fungi. With treatments specific to healing her gut, reducing the overgrowth of bacteria and eliminating the fungi, she is now sleeping through the night and no longer reports having IBS.

3. Lipopolysaccharides. The name is quite a mouthful, but basically lipopolysaccharides, or “LPS” for short, are bacterial toxins. LPS exist on the membrane of certain bacteria and are typically kept safely in the gut. However, when leaky gut occurs, these bacteria can enter the bloodstream at higher than normal levels. Certain high-fat diets can cause LPS levels to rise in the blood, as well.

Changes in the microbiome that allow LPS to escape into the bloodstream are linked to inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation is linked to metabolic conditions including insulin resistance and arteriosclerosis. (7) LPS has been found to be a triggering factor in the onset of insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes. (8). Leaky gut and high LPS levels have also been linked with many conditions that affect the brain, including depression and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (9) (10) (11)

As you can see, this toxin you’ve probably never heard of (don’t worry, your doctor probably hasn’t either) can wreak havoc on the body. At our center, we can test to see if high LPS levels could be causing your health problems and treat you accordingly.

4. Amino acid and nutrient deficiencies. As we’ve established, your gut is where most of your neurotransmitters are made. And for these important neurotransmitters that affect your mood, motivation and energy (such as serotonin and dopamine) to be made at optimal levels requires you to have optimal levels of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters, and if you are suffering from deficiencies or imbalances in amino acids or other important nutrients, your brain and body will pay the price.

At our center, we use an organic acid test to assess your levels and metabolism of nutrients and amino acids. Once we analyze your results, we can use dietary changes, supplements and other methods to improve your levels and metabolism, and thus improve your brain health.

5. Chronic stress. When we’re under stress, many of us experience GI issues that can include an upset stomach or diarrhea. But, did you know chronic stress can exacerbate these issues and lead to more GI upset that then leads to “brain upset”? Let me explain how.

When we’re under stress, our body makes excess cortisol, aka the “fight or flight” hormone. But, because we aren’t fighting or running from a predator, the cortisol has nowhere to go and builds up in our bodies. Too much cortisol lowers our stomach acid levels, and without enough stomach acid, the body can’t properly absorb vitamins and minerals. Without proper levels of vitamins and minerals, the GI system can’t make the neurotransmitters we need to feel motivated and energetic or to sleep and relax. Too little stomach acid also means the GI system isn’t able to kill off the bugs, bacteria and parasites we talked about earlier. You can see what a slippery slope this is.

On top of that, what started out as a stomach issue can move deeper into the intestines, leading to inflammation and further problems. You might experience colitis, IBS or constipation. The bad news is without a healthy gut, these conditions will only get worse, because a healthy brain-gut connection is necessary to regulate how we respond to stress. (12). The good news is if you’ve been under chronic stress, we can test and see if your GI system is functioning as it should be and use your test results to get to work on returning you back to good health.

Isn’t the brain-gut connection amazing? What’s even more amazing is how much better our patients feel once their guts are healed! The drugs most doctors give out will never do this. The only way to truly heal and be well is to find and treat the ROOT CAUSE of your issues. And I’m humbled and honored to say that here at our center, it’s something we do every day.

If you feel like traditional medicine is failing you, WE CAN HELP! If you have already tried drugs and therapy but still don’t feel your brain health, digestive health, energy or mood are where they need to be, it’s important to seek help from a certified functional medicine practitioner (C.F.M.P.) who is trained to look at all aspects of your health. Get started today and schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our doctors to learn more about how you can regain your health and start living again!

If you have questions or want to schedule a free consultation, contact us at (734) 530-3067 or click the link below.

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