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The Role of the Gut in Psychology

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in colon health, originally published in issue 114 - August 2005

In my research and clinical observations there is now much evidence to provide a link between autism, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, dyspraxia, dyslexia and depression with gut disorders. Sufferers from these psychological problems will nearly always have one or more of the following symptoms: heartburn, reflux, abdominal pain, flatulence, yeasts, bacteria, parasites and allergies, particularly those resulting in eczema and asthma.

To comprehend this vital connection it is important to have an understanding of the three main functions of the gut.

Firstly, the gut has a highly efficient defence system able to cope with bacteria, viruses, fungi, cancer cells and other foreign macromolecules. The main players in the defence system are secretory IgA immunoglobulins, (antibodies) in the saliva and the peyers patches in the ileum and hydrochloric acid and pepsins in the stomach. The lining of the digestive tract wall (enterocytes) are also inhabited by large numbers of beneficial bacteria and mucous membranes, which play major immunomodulating roles able to produce antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and anti cancer substances.

Secondly, the gut digests and absorbs foods. The final part of these processes is the responsibility of the enterocytes and the beneficial bacteria.

Thirdly, the gut has its own nervous system contained in the tissue lining of the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. The small intestine alone has over one million nerve cells, which equals the number of nerve cells in the spinal cord. This complex circuitry system called the 'enteric nervous system' or the 'second brain' provides the gut with both the means to communicate with the brain as well as being able to act independently. In addition, nearly every chemical that controls the brain has been identified in the gut, including hormones and neurotransmitters.

The epithelial lining of the gut plays a major role in these three main functions i.e. immunity, digestion and communication. If this crucially important organ becomes damaged, the immune system will be compromised, causing toxicity to be released through the gut wall into the brain, triggering psychological problems. Also, the digestive and absorptive processes will not function optimally, resulting in nutritional deficiencies, which may starve the brain of vital nutrients, and the enteric nervous system will become imbalanced resulting in poor regulatory mechanisms, which may result in altered brain function.

To demonstrate the connection between the gut and the brain further I would like to share with you Harry's journey towards health and healing.

Harry is 10-years-old and has suffered from psychological problems arising from the gut. He is a very intelligent boy who was diagnosed with dyspraxia at the age of four, attention deficit disorder at the age of seven and became clinically depressed at the age of nine, at which time his mother made an appointment for him to see me. A thorough case history and kinesiology assessment revealed a history of poor digestion, projectile vomiting, eczema, immune problems, low levels of beneficial bacteria and the presence of the yeast Candida albicans. He showed sensitivities to dairy products, sugar, red meat, oranges, yeast, additives and preservatives and was low in the following nutrients: zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, particularly B6, and essential fatty acids.

The nutritional recommendations for Harry were to follow a nutrient-dense, organic, wholefood diet, which included oily and white fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, beans, vegetables, fruit, and grains: rice, rye, quinoa, millet and oats. He took cold pressed sunflower oil daily and ground linseeds to raise the levels of both the omega-3 and omega6 fatty acids and pumpkin seeds to increase his zinc levels. He had sugar-free bars, toasted rye bread with sugar free jam and the occasional packet of unsalted crisps for treats and drank lots of water. He also eliminated the foods, additives and preservatives that he was sensitive to.

He took four nutritional supplements: a multi-vitamin and mineral with high levels of B vitamins to lift the depression, liquid pyridoxyal-5-phosphate (B6) to aid fatty acid conversion and neurotransmitter function, a herbal tincture containing Goldenseal, Astragalus, Cone flower, Shisandra and Ligusticum to raise the immune system and a powdered form of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum to replenish the beneficial bacteria.

After 4 weeks Harry's immune system was stronger, the levels of beneficial bacteria were raised and he was less depressed. The yeast Candida albicans was then targeted, as it was causing havoc in Harry's gut. This yeast feeds on glucose in the gut converting it into alcohol (ethanol) and its by-product acetaldehyde, which cause damage to the gut lining and are able to travel through the gut wall to the brain, causing impaired co-ordination and neurological problems. In Harry's case, this was contributing to his dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and depression. Acetaldehyde also causes a deficiency of vitamin B6. To kill the yeast Harry took garlic capsules, ionic zinc and a low dosage of caprylic acid.

After 16 weeks Harry no longer had any digestive problems or eczema. He was free of his depression, had less dyspraxic tendencies, a longer attention span and with the help of specific relaxation techniques he was calmer and more peaceful. Most importantly, he felt happier in himself.

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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;  junebutlin@btinternet.com

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