The Gut Microbiome – critical for systemic health
Current research is validating the long held naturopathic premise that our gut flora is critical for good health. Sections of the scientific community are now saying that the microbiome is possibly the most important factor in health and disease. To me, the connections between mental health and the microbiome are perhaps the most exciting.
Mental Health and the Microbiome
The research information coming to light in the area of mental health and the microbiome is set to revolutionise health care. This is an area where conventional medicine has struggled to have an effective impact; it was not long ago that frontal lobotomy was a primary mental health procedure, and electro shock therapy is still used today.
Our children are being increasingly medicated with stimulants to help them cope with waning concentration and increasing agitation. SSRI usage is skyrocketing, as one in four women in the US between 40 and 50 are depressed and almost as many men (even before Trump’s presidency).
Having a sick gut has an enormous impact on brain function. The effects of gluten and its risk for neurotoxicity have been discussed in a previous article. The microbiome produces neuroactive substances that can enhance or sabotage healthy brain processes. For example, large amounts of serotonin (which improves mood) are generated by healthy gut bacteria, whilst deleterious flora cause inflammation and leaky gut and secrete toxins that pass through the blood brain barrier and promote brain malfunction, potentially resulting in serious mental health issues.
Gut flora is also a major contributor in gene expression, resulting in either healthy or unhealthy genetic manifestations e.g. autism. Medical science is currently trying to match mental health issues with specific strains of probiotics, for example bifidobacteria infantis has been found to help anxiety, and fecal transplants of probiotics have been effective in Tourette’s syndrome. There are a multitude of factors that determine our microbiome makeup, including breast-feeding, antibiotic and other pharmaceutical drug use, low fibre, low fat, high carbohydrate diet, chlorinated water, pesticides, plasticisers, and exercise levels.
The good news?
The good news is that whatever our gastrointestinal history and subsequent bowel flora composition, there is a lot that can be done to turn it around and colonise healthy species, a bit like turning an old cow paddock into a flourishing rainforest. Central to this is consuming a diet high in vegetable fibre; this is like fertiliser to healthy flora. Make probiotic (fermented) foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha a regular part of your diet. Minimise, gluten and carbohydrates in general; good quality organically sourced fats have been found to optimise brain function and health.
A fantastic resource regarding the microbiome and brain health is the book, ‘Brain Maker’ by neurologist Dr David Perlmutter.
If you’re keen to investigate your microbiome, and therapeutic approaches to help bring you into a state of vitality and balance, book in with one of our highly experienced naturopaths at Mullum Herbals – in person, phone, and skype consultations available.
Writer – Val Iwaszko, Mullum Herbals