That “Gut Feeling” Gone Bad
Many have used the expression, “I have a gut feeling about…” to explain an intuitive sense of a situation or an impeding sense of danger. Although not a fully explored or understood topic in research, it appears that this “sense of knowing,” combined with experience/expertise, is an effective approach for situations that require quick, intense decisions. (1, 2)
Several studies have suggested that depressed individuals tend to have an inability to access their intuition, making them compromised decision makers. This can negatively impact their relationships, self-esteem, self-care, and ability to appreciate and adapt to various social and work situations.
The NIMH estimates that in the United States, 16 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. That’s 6.9 percent of the population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It is a leading cause of disability.
Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health highlights the problem among young adults. From 2008 to 2010, more than 8 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 reported a major depressive episode in the previous year.
Although social scientists may debate the psychological theories for this, and biochemistry has sought to correct depressive moods through neurotransmitter manipulation and other methods, there are many reasons that the brain may be “off-tune.”
(The Overwhelming Amount of) Factors That Influence Brain Health and Mood
In a previous blog, I discussed the complexity of factors involved in brain health. Manipulating only one has its limitations and can create even more imbalances than were present to start. Some of the factors include:
- Inflammation and oxidative stress
- Genetic variations (such as SNPs related to MTHFR, DRD2, DRD4, COMT, CBS, serotonin transporters (5HTT), CLOCK genes, and more)
- Nutrition and assimilation
- Dietary triggers and deficiencies (including cerebral folate deficiency)
- Mitochondrial dysfunctions and imbalances
- Hormonal imbalances
- Stress & cortisol levels
- The microbiome – including the brain microbiome!
- Environmental toxicants
- Blood sugar levels
- Stealth infections
- Childhood adversity
- Emotional tone and spirituality
- Brain trauma
- Hyper or hypo-activity in a brain region
- …and more!
Focusing on One Major Impact of Mood
I am fully aware that the above list may be a cause of more overwhelm for those who seek additional support for their brain!
Therefore, I will begin to explain one of the factors that seems to impact many of the others, the microbes that reside in your gut.
Serendipitously, manipulating this one factor can benefit all the others!
I will also give you simple, non-overwhelming solutions that will help nourish your body, brain, and your bugs!
The Microbial Brain-Body Impact
Before the explosion of research of the human microbiome (the population of microbes in and on humans and their genes), the mind-gut association was thought to be connected a bit differently. It was commonly understood to be a bi-directional relationship between a nervous disposition and an “irritable” bowel. In laymen’s terms, this was known as a stress-induced “disaster pants” situation.
As the research on the microbiome continues to evolve, we are learning more and more that the critters that reside on and in our bodies are impacting almost every aspect of health in a more intricate way, including on our “gut” emotions.
A 2016 article in Bioresearch Open Access, “Microbiota and Neurological Disorders: A Gut Feeling,” summarizes the many functions of these microorganisms:
In the past century, noncommunicable diseases have surpassed infectious diseases as the principal cause of sickness and death, worldwide. Trillions of commensal microbes live in and on our body, and constitute the human microbiome. The vast majority of these microorganisms are maternally derived and live in the gut, where they perform functions essential to our health and survival, including: digesting food, activating certain drugs, producing short-chain fatty acids (which help to modulate gene expression by inhibiting the deacetylation of histone proteins), generating anti-inflammatory substances, and playing a fundamental role in the induction, training, and function of our immune system. Among the many roles the microbiome ultimately plays, it mitigates against untoward effects from our exposure to the environment by forming a biotic shield between us and the outside world…
The Gut-Brain Connection
A 2017 comprehensive review in Microorganisms, “The Gut Microbiome Feelings of the Brain: A Perspective for Non-Microbiologists,” the authors explored the mechanisms of how the gut-brain axis interacts. They discussed the interactions between, “nutrients, the microbiome, and the intestinal, epithelium-enteric nervous, endocrine and immune systems and the brain.”
Described as “an array of multichannel sensing and trafficking pathways,” they found that there were various connections. Specifically, for the geeks, these were via our anatomy (vagal nerve and spinal neurons), the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (gut hormones), immune system (cytokines), microbial-produced neurotransmitters, and the intestinal-brain barrier (our brain microbiome).
When these pathways are uninterrupted, our bodies function optimally; however, a breakdown can cause many issues, still not fully elucidated. The article states:
Their mutual and harmonious but intricate interaction is essential for human life and brain performance. However, a failure in the interaction leads to a number of inflammatory-, autoimmune-, neurodegenerative-, metabolic-, mood-, behavioral-, cognitive-, autism-spectrum-, stress- and pain-related disorders.
It is believed that if we can understand these pathways better, we may support various physical and emotional disorders more effectively.
Putting It All Together
The microbiome influences our physiology, psychology, and biochemistry.
The good news is that we may already know enough to begin to optimize our physiological pathways and aim to prevent unwanted breakdowns in our bodies and minds.
We can support the bugs in our body through self-care, nourishing food, movement, probiotics, and essential oils. I go into this in more detail here and provide more microbiome news in my Top Holistic Health Reads for October 2017.
Next week, I’ll continue on this topic of the gut-brain.