Diet diary: The gut may affect feeling after all

According to a recent study in Acta Neuropathologica, researchers are just beginning to understand the nature of the interactions of the gut microbiota with autoimmune diseases and brain health.

Written by Ishi Khosla | Updated: July 30, 2016 11:35 am
For decades, close interactions between the gut-associated immune system, the nervous and endocrine systems have been studied but their findings have largely been ignored by psychiatrists and neurologists. For decades, close interactions between the gut-associated immune system, the nervous and endocrine systems have been studied but their findings have largely been ignored by psychiatrists and neurologists. (Source: Thinkstock Images)

It may seem hard to link your personality, behaviour, mood and performance to your gut, but increasing evidence in neuroscience appears to suggest so. There is a paradigm shift in the last decade in the understanding of common brain disorders ranging from minor mood swings, irritability, anxiety, brain fog, chronic headache, insomnia to depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists have discovered novel associations between the nervous system and our gut. It has been found that over two-thirds of our neurotransmitters are secreted in the gut. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which help in brain functioning and carrying signals between nerve cells.

For decades, close interactions between the gut-associated immune system, the nervous and endocrine systems have been studied but their findings have largely been ignored by psychiatrists and neurologists.

We often don’t know why we suffer from brain disorders and chemical imbalances in the brain and blame our genes or age for several degenerative and debilitating conditions. The fact, however, is that brain dysfunction may be linked to what you eat, your digestive health and your gut microbes. So, the origin may be as simple as your daily bread; in fact, several grains that we have embraced as part of our staples can be the root cause of brain disease as they can trigger inflammation.

Besides inflammation, the role of tiny invisible microbes also called microbiota, which reside in our gut, play an important in brain function. Scientists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). While dopamine is associated with alertness, serotonin has a calming, relaxing and a feel-good effect. It is no surprise that several gastrointestinal conditions like IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, celiac (gluten-sensitivity), coincide with depression and anxiety. Changes in the levels of these neurotransmitters lead to alteration of moods and state of mind. Evidence is accumulating that other food sensitivities like dairy can trigger brain disorders including mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, depression, aggressive behaviour.

According to a recent study in Acta Neuropathologica, researchers are just beginning to understand the nature of the interactions of the gut microbiota with autoimmune diseases and brain health. Another recent study, in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2016, administration of pre- and probiotics was found useful in both the prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

 

Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of www.theweightmonitor.com and Whole Foods India

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