What’s Bugging You?
Aug 29, 2011 06:17PM
● By Dr. Jason Frigerio
Dr. Jason Frigerio
All disease begins in the gut. —Hippocrates
This has long been a mantra in naturopathic medicine, and it seems modern science is finally catching up to this ancient wisdom. Probiotics, also known as beneficial bacteria, have long been promoted as having a positive influence on “the gut,” improving intestinal health, nutrient absorption, vitamin synthesis, inhibition of pathogenic bacteria and immune function. Now we have reason to believe that probiotics can also produce and respond to neurochemicals and influence behavior, beginning at the level of digestion.
Recent research at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has shown that probiotics exert a direct influence on the production of neurochemicals such as serotonin in the bloodstream and can improve one’s psychological health. The study used microbial endocrinology and neurophysiology to demonstrate the mechanism through which bacteria can influence human health and disease, and the potential detriment of antibiotic overuse.
Neurochemicals play a role in every aspect of neurological function, including movement, cognition, pleasure, motivation, sexual function and arousal, mood, sleep, cardiovascular function and muscle contraction, to name but a few. We now know that these very chemicals are generated by bacteria in the gut and delivered to the bloodstream through intestinal absorption.
Our current understanding is that there are ten times as many bacteria in and on the human body as there are cells. Studies such as the one mentioned above are helping us to begin to comprehend that everything from immune health to autoimmune disease, behavioral and developmental disorders, neurological imbalances and musculoskeletal conditions can be related to bacteria. It has even been suggested by Dr. Thomas Rau that all cancer patients demonstrate an imbalance of intestinal bacteria, again pointing toward the fundamental role of this bacteria, or lack thereof, in human health.
So what does this mean for the average person? The bottom line is that psychological and physical health begins in the gut; therefore, to stay as healthy and happy as possible, it behooves us to encourage the growth, maintenance and health of the tens of millions of bacteria that our bodies contain.
The most obvious and simple approach is to add probiotic-rich foods to the variety of things we consume every day as well as a high-quality store-bought probiotic. Lacto-fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee and kombucha are the ones that do the main work of building up the body’s positive bacterial potential. I recommend them to my patients as a stepping-off point on the journey toward digestive health. So, the next time you wonder, “What’s bugging me?” the answer may very well be in your gut!
Jason Frigerio, ND, CA, is a naturopathic doctor and certified acupuncturist in the state of New Jersey, with an office in New Vernon. He completed a six-year dual degree doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and Master in Oriental Medicine from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. See NJNaturalMedicine.com.