The Gut-Brain connection to mental health

Gut-brain connection to health


Microbes are more than partially responsible for the temperament and behavior in a child or adult. If your child is in their “terrible two’s,” you don’t want that to progress into terrible threes and fours, and then on into adulthood. Microbes in the gut influence temperament, mood, sociability, self-control, adaptability, intensity, attention span, ability to focus and the central nervous system in a big way.

Children lacking a diverse and healthy gut microbiome exhibit abnormal microglial function. The development of a child’s brain lays the foundation for all future behavior and learning.

During the first few years of life, the brain is creating connections between neurons called synapses. After a period of rapid growth, when they are making about 1,000 new synapses every second, the number of synapse is reduced. Special immune cells in the brain called microglia break down or “prune” synaptic material, which allows other connections to be strengthened and more efficient. This pruning is essential for normal prenatal brain development. Environmental conditions, experiences and a child’s biology (gut microbes) determines which connections are maintained. A synapse that is constantly activated will become stronger, while a synapse that never receives input will be pruned. This makes the brain extremely malleable during a critical period of development.

There is a connection between the gut microbiome and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Early life exposure to mild or moderate stressors enhances HPA regulation and promotes lifelong resilience to stress. However, exposure to extreme or chronic stress early in life can induce an over-reactive HPA axis and encourage vulnerability to stress throughout the lifetime. It looks like post traumatic stress disorder. Changes in the function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis have been linked to temperament in children and adults. People with dysbiosis in the gut have exaggerated HPA response as compared to people with a healthy balance of gut microbes. This can be corrected by healing the gut and reintroducing beneficial microbiota, but for children it is critical to do this at as early an age as possible. It’s never to late to turn this around and enjoy the benefits of feeling physical and emotional wellbeing.

Microbes tell you what to eat. Good microbes tell you to eat good, healthy, nutritious food and bad microbes tell you to eat junk, processed carbs, sugars, nutritionally devoid food-like substances that contain no FOS. Good bacteria in your gut are constantly processing the fermentable fibers (FOS) from your healthy diet and producing a wide range of metabolic end products, including short-chain fatty acids, which are known to be absorbed into circulation and influence host physiology by binding short-chain fatty acids to free fatty acid receptors on cells throughout the body. When short-chain fatty acids are deficient due to the absence of beneficial bacteria, microglia maturation and function defects develop.

Children with healthy diversity in gut microbe populations are more sociable, extroverted, calm, and have a more positive attitude, while children with damaged or nonexistent beneficial microbe populations are more anti-social, introverted, depressed, anxious, wired, have learning disabilities and other nervous system disorders. Children who have bacteria in the Rikenellaseae and Ruminococcaceae families, and the Parabacteroides (antibiotic resistant) genera exhibited “bad” behavior and temperament.

90% of your body’s serotonin and 50% of your dopamine are produced in your gut, along with about 30 other neurotransmitters. The microbes in your gut regulate the production of myelin (covers nerves and helps them properly conduct electrical impulses) in the prefrontal cortex, which is important for having self-control and executive function.

Antibiotics cause microbial dysbiosis, which then impairs cognition in children. As the child ages, it alters components of the tryptophan metabolic pathway and significantly reduces hormones that are made in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary. The hormone Oxytocin plays a role in social bonding, and vasopressin is important for homeostasis by regulating water, glucose, and salts in the blood, also plays an important role in social behavior, sexual motivation and pair bonding, and maternal responses to stress. It also reduces brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression in the adult brain. BDNF is important for learning and long-term memory.

The gut microbiota is essential for maintaining not only the selectively permeable epithelial membrane of the intestines, but also the selectively permeable blood-brain barrier. Just like the gut, tight junction of this membrane keeps things out of the brain that would harm it. People with damaged beneficial bacteria populations have leaky gut and increased blood-brain barrier permeability, which leads to inflammation in the head (headaches), altered behavior, visual disturbances and just about every psychological and neurological diagnosis you can think of.

Restoring a healthy gut micro biome for your child will reduce the chances of physical and mental health issues later in life, but also help them to produce healthy children and grandchildren. The effects are far reaching, hugely important and worth every effort to accomplish. I can help you do this.

Call 301-293-1500 or email johnna@wholefamilyhealthandnutrition.com