How the Gut Affects the Brain

The gastrointestinal system is composed of tight junctions that act as a barrier allowing the smaller beneficial particles into the blood stream and keeping the larger unrecognizable particles out. Stress, whether it be in the form of physical, mental, or chemical has a profound impact on how well those tight junctions function. Poor diet, medications, antibiotics, chemical exposure, trauma, and infections cause stress on the gastrointestinal system damaging the cells leaving them unable to properly release needed enzymes for digestion and absorb nutrients. Furthermore, those tight junctions begin to loosen due to a decrease in blood flow allowing for large undigested particles to break through the barrier and enter the bloodstream. In the bloodstream, these potentially harmful particles trigger a release of cytokines, proteins that promote inflammation in an attempt to rid the body of a harmful substance. Common symptoms of gut inflammation include gas and bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, alternating constipation and diarrhea, or feeling of fullness after eating very little amounts. Inflammation does not stay localized to the gut, however. It becomes systemic, meaning it affects every part of the body including the brain. The same way in which the gut barrier breaks down from inflammation, the blood brain barrier protecting the brain also breaks down. This again allows for potentially harmful particles to directly affect the brain causing even more inflammation. Symptoms that may be experienced with brain inflammation include brain fog, inability to think clearly, inability to recall certain words or concepts easily, and slow reflexes. In fact, recent research has attributed dysfunction in gut health as the cause behind conditions such as autism, ADD/ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. Inflammation in the brain with slower processing speeds is reflected in the function of the gut leading to even more inflammation in the gastrointestinal system amplifying the harmful effects that were already present. This cycle will continue until the inflammation is decreased. The mechanism to decrease inflammation in both the gut and the brain is different for each individual. Thorough laboratory work is needed in order to determine a proper treatment plan to decrease inflammation and rebuild the protective barriers of the gut and brain.


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