Internecivus Raptus, better known as Xenomorph from the movie Alien, is the brain child of Ridley Scott: These hostile, angry, face hugging and chest exploding critters terrorised Sigourney Weaver between 1979 and 1997.
If you’ve never seen these movies, you may be wondering about their relevance to an article about gut health. These alien life forms required a human host to continue their blood thirsty rampaging… The human/alien symbiosis comes to a dramatic end when the alien would burst out into the world through the chest wall of the poor person carrying it… ready to wreak havoc.
While this story is obviously science fiction, it bears some similarity to our own biology.
The Human Host
To term a human being as an individual is somewhat inaccurate. We are hosts to billions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Thankfully, most of the little fellas we carry around are far more beneficial to our health than the Xenomorphs that terrified a generation of Sci-Fi fans.
In fact, 90% of our bodies are microbial. We are supra-organisms with ten times more microbial cells than human cells. With the highest percentage of bacteria residing in the gut weighing in at approximately 1.5kg (3.3lbs) and with thousands of different species, many of whom are yet to be identified by science.
The main players in the gut biome are the multiple strains of Bifodobacterium, who inhabit the large intestine and Lactobacillus who inhabits the small intestine. Disturbance to these guys through poor diet, stress, and antibiotics can alter their ratio and location in the intestines… leading to a multitude of health issues, such as:
- Antibiotic associated diarrhoea
- Asthma and allergies
- Autoimmune disease
- Dental cavities
- Depression and anxiety
- Eczema, Psoriasis and Dermatitis
- Gastric Ulcers
- Hardening of the arteries
- Inflammatory bowel disease
The Biome/Gut/Brain Axis
The Human Microbiome Project of the National Institute of Health is an organisation dedicated to mapping and understanding the vastness of the bacterial, viral, and fungal inhabitants of the human being. The data gathered from these research efforts has provided information for complimentary health paradigms such as Functional Medicine and has highlighted the importance of the biome to our health and longevity.
This information has led to the understanding of the interaction of the gut biome, the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and the brain. The ENS is a collection of neurons which function to control certain intestinal functions completely independent of the brain.
‘The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Recent advances in research have described the importance of gut microbiota in influencing these interactions. This interaction between microbiota and GBA appears to be bidirectional, namely through signaling from gut-microbiota to brain and from brain to gut-microbiota by means of neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral links’. Marilia Carabotti, Annunziata Scirocco, Maria Antonietta Maselli, and Carola Severi.
The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr-Jun; 28(2): 203–209. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/
The biome/gut/brain axis is a two-way street. The gut can be negatively impacted from the top down as well as the brain negatively impacted from the bottom up.
The vagus nerve connects all of the viscera to the medulla, which is connected to the brain. The brain and brainstem fire impulses down the vagus nerve to a series of valves distributed throughout the intestines. The valves fire in a rhythmical sequence when we are fasting and in between meals, keeping some things where they should be whilst letting other things through.
If there is damage to the brain, such as that experienced from a mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion, these impulses may be altered and the control of the intestinal valves is thrown out of sync. When the valve which acts as a doorway between the large and small intestine stays open too long, the bacteria of the large intestine can take a little field trip into the small intestine where they don’t belong. This can lead to:
- intestinal wall inflammation
- problems such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- and can contribute towards leaky gut
Faulty vagal nerve motor activity can also alter blood flow and digestive enzyme release within the intestines which can lead to difficult toilet experiences.
If the numbers of our friendly microbial colonies are too low, a number of things can be effected. Locally, we can experience delayed gastric emptying and increased intestinal wall permeability.
This can produce symptoms such as:
- most importantly can affect how the immune system functions
With regards to the brain, low populations of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus can:
- Alter neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism
- Generate states of brain fog
- Cognitive decline
- Produce depressive and anxious behaviour
How to be a good host
With an understanding that the human gut and its friendly bacterial inhabitants are pretty important to good health, what can we do keep the little guys happy?
It’s pretty simple, don’t piss the good guys off by eating inflammatory foods! That being said, I don’t like to make blanket recommendations on foods: one man’s gut-health promoting strawberries is another man’s histamine based digestive issue.
This is why assessment, coupled with symptoms and client feedback is imperative. In the AMN Level 3 Homeostasis Certification, we teach you how to assess for increased bioelectrical charge, associated with the Gastrointestinal system to great detail.
This can uncover useful information that may be pertinent to the wellness of your clientele. However, the otherwise healthy individual may do well to avoid pro-inflammatory foods such as:
- Refined vegetable oils
- Pasteurised dairy products
- Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products
- Conventional meat, poultry and eggs (cheap meat options)
- Added sugars
- Trans fats/hydrogenated fats
The otherwise healthy individual may also do well to consume foods such as:
- Fresh vegetables – Cruciferous veggies, leafy greens, beetroot, carrots, salad greens etc
- Fresh fruit
- Herbs, spices and teas
- Probiotic foods
- Wild caught fish
- Free range eggs
- Grass fed meat
- Healthy fats
Obviously it’s imperative to follow your Doctor’s advice, but if you have to take antibiotics do a little research into the known impact on our microbiome. Eat as described above whist using the medication and consider probiotic supplementation post treatment.
Stress is such a generic term, a full investigation of the word and its physiological effects exceed the context of this otherwise ‘succinct’ blog post, but when we suffer prolonged psychological or physical stress we encourage inflammation to occur.
Chronic inflammation can stimulate increased and sometimes inappropriate activation of the immune system and increased oxidative stress, which damages our cells.
In my mind, the psychological stress we experience is tied to our thought processes. Our circumstances appear to be tied to our thoughts, but in reality, circumstance, thought and experience are each individual events. The problem is that all of us tend to get caught up in the energy of our thoughts and begin to mistake that energy as a representation of ourselves. We all do this because it’s what the mind and brain are designed to do – it’s called being human.
As we pay the energy of thought more attention, the brain creates an elaborate virtual reality show around the concepts we get stuck on. This virtual reality includes the electrical, chemical and hormonal changes that occur in the physical body, which is often to our detriment, especially when the content of our self-generated experience is negative.
As soon as we realise that we are not the content of our thoughts, we can relieve stress instantly. As my good friend David Westerman, High Performance Expert says, “we’re always one moment away from waking up to our true nature of flow, power, and peace of mind”.
For more information on this topic, check out the AMN Archives
Synchronise With The Environment
As this is an AMN blog post, I’m going to go a little deeper into the lesser discussed anatomy that is usually provided with regards to gut health. It’s my party and ill geek out if I want to.
It may be of interest and surprise to learn that our entrainment to the natural rhythms of the earth, day, and night cycles, directly impact our health. The biome/gut/brain axis actually starts in the eyes.
Sunlight enters the eyes and stimulates the supraoptic nucleus. Light fires through the optic chiasm and onto the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is the master time keeper of the body to which all other clock genes are synced.
The sunlight, which has just stimulated the SCN continues its journey to stimulate another part of the brain with a complicated name called the Paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the Hypothalamus.
The PVN is where the central nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system, via the pituitary gland all converge.
Stay with me now…
In the absence of light (some people call it darkness) a chemical called Leptin is secreted from the body fat stores and makes its way to the PVN of the Hypothalamus to inform the brain of the body’s energy balance.
Leptin stimulates the release of Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP). VIP stimulates contractility in the heart, causes vasodilation, increases glycogenolysis in the liver, lowers arterial blood pressure and relaxes the smooth muscle of trachea, stomach and gall bladder.
With respect to the digestive system, VIP induces smooth muscle relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter, stomach and gallbladder, stimulates secretion of water into pancreatic juice and bile, and causes inhibition of gastric acid secretion and absorption from the intestinal lumen.
Within the intestine, VIP stimulates secretion of water and electrolytes, as well as relaxing enteric smooth muscle, to ultimately increase motility.
Guess what? When we look at backlit screens all day and night stimulating our brains into thinking it’s always day time and if we always eat late in the evening, insulin is released which blocks the action of Leptin.
- Eat the good food you know you should in daylight hours
- aim to have your final meal four hours before midnight
- avoid over exposure to back lit screens.
The sunlight is where it’s at: get full spectrum, natural sunlight as often as possible.
Give It A Break
Intermittent fasting has had a lot of attention over the last decade in the health & fitness industry.
Over the past couple of years it has made its way in to the minds of the general population. Quite simply, not eating for extended periods gives your digestive system a break, gives the brain a longer time period to deal with oxidative stress, increases the production of Growth Hormone and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Growth Factor (BDNF), starves the bad bacteria which are behind all of your cravings and drives you to drink more water.
As an added bonus, you will lose held water weight from under the surface of the skin and when approached properly, can be helpful for fat loss.
So, next time you talk to your clients about nutrition, consider gut health and encourage them to treat their bacterial buddies with respect. We have evolved in this state of symbioses for a reason.
It is a mutually beneficial relationship that should be nurtured throughout a lifetime to promote health and wellness.
Liu CJ, Huang SC, Huang YC, Liu CY, Chen HI. Sonographic demonstration of human small intestinal migrating motor complex phase III. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013 Feb;25(2):198-202. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23072357
Vishal Bansal, Todd Costantini, Lauren Kroll, Carrie Peterson, William Loomis, Brian Eliceiri, Andrew Baird, Paul Wolf, and Raul Coimbra. Traumatic Brain Injury and Intestinal Dysfunction: Uncovering the Neuro-Enteric Axis. J Neurotrauma. 2009 Aug; 26(8): 1353–1359. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2989839/
Leo Galland. The Gut Microbiome and the Brain. J Med Food. 2014 Dec 1; 17(12): 1261–1272. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4259177/
Weitz, Charles J. Circadian Clock of the Paraventricular Nucleus. Harvard University, Boston, MA, United States. http://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R01-NS060860-02
Robert Lustig M.D.: Insulin blocks Leptin in hypothalmus. https://youtu.be/SEFowqGmfAM
Mattson MP. Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective. Annu Rev Nutr. 2005;25:237-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16011467