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By Sally Pattison BAppSc, Adv. Dip. Nat, Adv. Dip. Nut
There is increasing evidence that the microbiome has an effect on the central nervous system and brain, affecting how we think, feel and act and on the development on neurological conditions.
Serotonin: The Brain-Gut Connection
Over 95% of the body’s serotonin, the 'happy hormone' is found in the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, which has been called the body’s “second brain” because of its role in serotonin production and so many of the body’s vital functions.
Serotonin is a key player in the functioning of GI tract muscles, causing the contraction of our intestines, and triggering the gut nerves which signal pain, nausea, and other gut problems. As well, it influences the functioning of the cardiovascular, immune and renal systems. This amazing hormone also regulates aggression, appetite, cognition, mood, sexual behaviour and even sleep.
This neurotransmitter (chemical by which nerve cells communicate with each other or with muscles), serotonin is manufactured in our bodies from the amino acid tryptophan, which is derived from the food we eat. Diet, then, influences not only the state of our digestive system and overall physical health, it also has a profound impact on memory, mental clarity, mood, and even the foods we crave; these functions are all regulated by serotonin.
Scientists have shown that brain levels of serotonin are regulated by the amount of bacteria in the gut during early life. The research shows that normal adult brain function depends on the presence of gut microbes during development. Serotonin is altered in times of stress, anxiety and depression and most clinically effective antidepressant drugs work by targeting this neurochemical.
You may not be aware that you actually have two nervous systems:
- Central nervous system, composed of your brain and spinal cord
- Enteric nervous system, which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract
Both are created from identical tissue during foetal development—one part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system. These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. It is now well established that the vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain.
While many think of their brain as the organ in charge, your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut... In other words, you've probably experienced the visceral sensation of ‘butterflies in your stomach’ when you're nervous, or had an upset stomach when you were very angry or stressed. The flip side is also true, in that problems in your gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression – it is a 2 way street.
Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut -- including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin. It’s quite possible that this might be one reason why antidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in your brain, are often ineffective in treating depression, whereas proper dietary changes often help.
Use gut bacteria to protect yourself against anxiety, depression, obesity and
a host of other mental health issues.
Diet Is Vital to Serotonin Production
So it is now shown that the microbiome has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.
Nutrition is vital not only to our physical health; it’s necessary to a properly functioning digestive system capable of producing sufficient amounts of serotonin. A diet of “real food”– one rich in organic fruits and vegetables and free of trans fats, refined wheat and sugar – goes a long way toward preventing the build-up of toxins in the colon. And when it comes to serotonin production, the importance of raw foods for their nutrient value and serotonin-boosting properties cannot be over stated.
Tips for Ensuring Adequate Serotonin Levels
Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B to help with serotonin production.
Omega-3, omega-6, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) are required for serotonin production. GLA is found in black currant seed, borage, evening primrose and hemp seed oils.
Healthy carbohydrates and proteins help metabolize foods high in the agents responsible for serotonin production.
Avoid white flour and sugar carbohydrates. The boost they provide in serotonin levels is temporary and quickly followed by a crash.
Foods in which completely formed serotonin can be found include bananas, kiwis, pineapples, plantains, plums, tomatoes and walnuts.
Foods rich in tryptophan include almonds, bananas, beans, cheeses (particularly Cheddar and Swiss), chicken, eggs, fish (especially high-oil fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna), milk, peanuts, soy foods, turkey and yoghurt.
Digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements can assist with full nutrient absorption from the above food sources, thereby increasing overall nutrient intake.
So if a twinge in your gut spikes your anxiety, you may want to consider getting your gut bacteria in balance with eating right, or taking the right probiotics.
By Sally Pattison BAppSc, Adv. Dip. Nat, Adv. Dip. Nut
Did you know that approximately 80% of your immune tissue is located within your digestive system?
The digestive system comprises of cells, proteins, tissues and organs which work together in a complex way to defend the body against harmful bacteria, infectious diseases and toxins. Our bodies rely on proper enzymes and healthy microbes to work with pathogenic bacteria and to produce anti-bacterial cultures in order to strengthen the intestinal walls and to support our immune system.
All of the systems within your body work closely together to maintain optimal health, when one system is unbalanced it can trigger a domino effect; causing problems in other areas of your body and creating a cascade of chronic health complications.
Over time, disease-causing microbes accumulate. They affect our metabolic processes and even our gene activity, causing an abnormal immune response against the body’s normal tissues and substances.
Considering the fact that an estimated 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, ‘reseeding’ your gut with healthy bacteria is important for the prevention of virtually ALL diseases, from colds to cancer.
Immune system function:
The gut is often the first entry point for exposure to pathogens (bad bacteria and virus’ that can cause disease); therefore your gut immune system needs to be thriving and healthy in order to avoid illness.
In fact, the gut mucosa connects with the largest population of immune cells in the body. These are also known as gastrointestinal immune cells; which come from the lymphoid branch of the immune system. Their aim is to secrete lymphocyte cells which attack harmful invaders. These cells work together to protect the mucous membranes of the small intestines from infection. They do this by releasing specific white blood cells to defend the inside of the digestive tract from infection, as well as the damage that they cause to the intestinal walls.
Aside from containing specialized immune cells, the particular strains of friendly gut flora that reside within your intestines are also critical for overall immunity. These guys act as mighty warriors for the immune system, and are dependable allies for immune cells; helping them to enhance their “natural killer” effectiveness and boosting their overall defence of the intestinal walls to prevent pathogens and infections being absorbed. This is one critical reason why maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut is so important. Without them, your immune system cannot do its job effectively, and in essence it is defenceless.
A variety of illnesses can occur when these protective functions of the gut are compromised. Intestinal permeability causes the immune system to go into overdrive; bringing on an unnecessary response against things like gluten, bad bacteria and undigested foods which have passed through these permeable holes in the gut lining. One of the first indications of leaky gut is the increase in food intolerances. If left unhealed, this can lead to immune abnormalities and eventually autoimmune conditions and other health issues. Some of these include inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, depression, migraine headaches, muscle pain and fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and Addison’s disease to name a few.
It’s only in recent years that scientists are beginning to discover the vital importance of the link between diet, gut bacteria and the immune system. Scientific evidence now shows that the types of food that you eat will directly determine the levels of certain bacteria in your gut.
Changing your diet will change the kind of bacteria that you have; which will either support the strengthening of your immune system, or deplete its defensive capabilities. Conclusions drawn from the current research all reveal that a healthy immune system is the result of a diet that supports healthy gut function: one that emphasises whole, unprocessed foods and one that helps to repopulate the gut with good bacteria.