Part #5 Gut-Brain Connection
In Part A we went over the Gut-Brain Connection and now I will explain the importance of the nerve chemicals, called Neurotransmitters and how they affect your digestive health.
Let’s get started!!!
Neurotransmitters (nerve chemicals)
The purpose of nerves are to transmit information. The only reason you can see, hear, move, taste, think…anything and everything your body does, depends on nerves. For your nerves to be able to transmit information, they require proper levels of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by your nerves, so they can relay information. The “Depression” image shows how a healthy synapse (nerve connection) has plenty of neurotransmitters and a person with depression has fewer neurotransmitters. If your gut does not have enough neurotransmitters it does not get depressed but it will fail to function properly.
Neurotransmitter imbalances, including serotonin and dopamine are one of the most common causes of chronic digestion problem for women. Neurotransmitters are poorly understood by most doctors and the only “solution” they can recommend are psychiatric drugs. Often, these drugs do not work and are a poor solution for digestion problems. The good news is that many neurotransmitter problems can be addressed without the use of drugs.
Let’s look at the connection between a common female digestion problem like IBS and its connection to neurotransmitters. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Irritable bowel syndrome is a common and potentially disabling functional gastrointestinal disorder…a significant amount of clinical and research data suggest the importance of the brain-gut interactions in IBS. The published literature indicates that fewer than half of the individuals with IBS seek treatment for it. Of those who do, 50% to 90% have psychiatric disorders, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder…Recent information suggests that the association of IBS and psychiatric disorders may be more fundamental than was previously believed.”
In my practice, I often see functional bowel disorders like IBS, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, GERD, nausea, pain and cramping occur with other indications of neurotransmitter imbalances.
Conditions associated with neurotransmitter problems:
- Migraines / chronic headaches
- Hormonal imbalances
- Adrenal fatigue
- Brain-fog / poor concentration
- Feeling overwhelmed or stressed
These are just a few problems that have been linked to neurotransmitter imbalances.
It is uncommon for a woman to ONLY have functional bowel disorders; there are usually other indications of neurotransmitter problems.
Unfortunately, the only solution that traditional medicine has for neurotransmitter imbalances is psychiatric medication. While these drugs may provide relief, they are not the best solution for digestion problems. In fact, I often see women who have been using these medications develop digestion problems. They rarely make the connection (nor do their doctors) that most of these drugs deplete gut neurotransmitters over time.
Yes, the drugs may help with your anxiety or depression but you they can cause digestion problems over times. Why? They deplete your neurotransmitters over time. This also explains why these drugs tend to work for a while but then you need to increase the dose or switch to a new drug or add a second, third or fourth drug.
Why does the drug lose effectiveness over time? It has depleted your neurotransmitters. This is also why many women have difficulty stopping these drugs and experience Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome.
I’m not trying to bash antidepressants, I just want you to get the information you are not getting from your doctor. Oh, one more thing…these drugs like SSRIs and SNRIs DO NOT RAISE YOUR NEUROTRANSMITTER LEVELS!!! They are a class of drug called reuptake inhibitors…they prevent the nerve that made the neurotransmitter from reabsorbing the neurotransmitter and using it again. When this occurs, the nerve that receives the neurotransmitter gets access to more of that neurotransmitter. The problem with this is that the nerve that makes the neurotransmitter gets depleted over time. Like I said earlier, another thing that happens is that you develop new health problems but don’t realize they are a sign of neurotransmitter depletion.
Ok, the reason I am spending so much time on this is to make a point. Optimal neurotransmitter levels are ESSENTIAL, if you hope to have a properly functioning digestive tract.
The good news is we can often improve neurotransmitter levels even if you are taking reuptake inhibitor medications. So, whether you are taking drugs or not, we can usually get gut neurotransmitters back in order again.
I will not however give specific recommendations on how I do this. Addressing neurotransmitters should ONLY be done by a doctor who understands how to work with them. I wanted to educate you on the importance of neurotransmitters and make you aware of the fact that they can usually be addressed using non-drug solutions.
What You Can Do
The good news is that sometimes neurotransmitter imbalances will be solved by following the earlier steps of this series. Working with your diet, getting your nutrients balanced, correcting gut flora and hormone imbalances; these earlier steps impact the brain-gut connection and can improve neurotransmitter balance. If you get these earlier steps addressed and still have digestion problems, then your neurotransmitters may need direct attention.
This concludes the Women’s Digestion Solutions health series. I hope you have found this series helpful. If you feel like you can use this information and apply it to your own digestion problems, then my mission has been accomplished. However, if you still are not sure how to reclaim your health, then I want you to contact my office for a consultation.
No one should live with chronic digestion problems. There are solutions to your problem, maybe I can help.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Dr. Clint Sexton
If you would like more information about women’s digestion, functional medicine or Dr. Sexton contact our Naperville office or go to www.napervilleintegratedwelness.com
Do your own research, inform yourself and ask lots of questions. When collecting information you MUST consider the source. There is no shortage of false, misleading, outdated, profit-driven and utterly biased information in healthcare today; even from the most respected sources and organizations.