Wednesday, July 6, 2011

News flash: the gut and brain are connected!

The obvious scatological humor will be left alone. Guys, you know what I mean. (Girls who were outnumbered by your brothers, you too.)

I started to blog this article because the forehead-smacking tone of the revelation that the gut might relate to the brain was a bit too much for me. On closer examination, it looks like the misplaced drama is the writer's, not the scientists'.

One of the places where serotonin is released is in the gut, where it helps digest proteins. That's the most obvious "duh" moment here. Moreover, as those of us who remember our embryology know, the inter-relationships and constant correspondence between neurology and gut, gut and immunity, immunity and endocrine system, endocrine and neurological system are all too intense and interlocked for words.

Most studies make brutally clear that these so-called systems are medically treated as separate and distinct, but our bodies never got that memo. It's all the same system, as far as the body is concerned.

Much of this researcher's recent work focuses on neurology of the gut -- enteric neurology. It's a real thing now. His prior work focused on the biological environment in the gut, or the intestinal microbiota.

// START Word geek goes wild:
Sometimes, I just love medical terminology for the way it rolls, hops, and bounces off the tongue. Enteric neurology. Intestinal microbiota. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Maybe that last one doesn't work so well.
// END Word geeking.

If you can stand the medical and chemical jargon, it's worth looking into some of his work. It's probably not a stretch to call it prescient, in that it is likely to lay the foundations for our emerging understanding of the gut as a more complex and self-managing, yet interlocked, set of systems than we've ever imagined before.

I can't find the original science article, just this unsatisfactory and superficial overview. It says that intestinal microbiota affect the person's mood and feelings, and that it's possible to deliver specific probiotics (like yogurt species, naturally-fermented cole slaw, certain cheeses and the like) in order to have a specific benefit to the neurological system.

If you were an empiricist, like me, it would sound like "eating good, living food leads to better mental health," which healers have been saying for millenia. But far be it from me to steal such well-researched thunder.

Link list:

Science Daily article:
A Gut-Full of Probiotics for Your Neurological Well-Being

Credentials of lead researcher, Prof. Lyte:
Mark Lyte, Ph.D., M.S., MT (ASCP)

Wikipedia's digest (sic) of the enteric nervous system (this seems basically congruent with the uber-geeky medical studies I looked at on the subject, so I accept it as a decent primer):
Enteric Nervous System

Couldn't find a good overview that didn't involve more dead rodents than I could, er, stomach.

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