Gut Psychology

You know the expression, “I had a gut feeling”? That may be more true than you think. What if I told you that feeling was all about a molecule called serotonin? You’ve probably heard of it, especially if you are being treated for depression or anxiety with an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor.) These drugs effectively cause the body to keep re-using its current stores of serotonin, rather than allowing the normal breakdown and re-cycling that would occur.

A current question in research is whether SSRI’s can cause the body to make less of its own serotonin over time, thereby exacerbating a functional deficiency. Some researchers think that’s the case, but if so, why not just give people serotonin? The answer is that we can’t – because each person has to manufacture their own, and guess where that happens? In the gut!

gut psychNaturopathic medicine teaches that all diseases originate in the gut, including psychological disorders. With depression and anxiety, like most problems, we start with the basics – nourishment and repair of the mucosal lining of the gut. Here’s why – in addition to being the home of the immune system, mucosal cells in the gut are responsible for manufacturing vitamins, enzymes, and certain mono-amines, like serotonin and histamine, which function as neurotransmitters (among other duties), and are crucial in the brain to regulate mood and thought processes. (Histamine is another interesting example because anti-histamines are sometimes used to treat schizophrenia.)

Let me explain. For a moment, think of your body as a tree – and then consider that if you were a tree, your roots would be in your gut. The mucous lining of the gut is intricately laced with tiny blood vessels that attach to the network of the rest of the body and transport nutrients that have been broken down from your food. This lining is also a filter that keeps waste products from entering your blood. The mucosal cells that maintain the gut barrier require proper nutrition to remain intact. When this lining is damaged due to stress, poor diet, nutritional deficiencies or infection, these cells can’t do their job. The result can be a condition sometimes referred to as “leaky gut,” which allows toxins to escape from the gut and get into the blood stream, which can cause serious mischief, especially in the brain.
We know that many psychological disorders respond quite well to proper nutrition and repair of the gut lining. This includes depression, anxiety, bulimia, epilepsy, schizophrenia, autism and ADHD, to name a few. Naturopathic physicians are well trained in normalizing gut function, so if you or someone you know is suffering from any of these problems, consider a consultation with a naturopath. It could change your life.

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