Mind Body Medicine Sioux City

The Gut-Brain Connection

“I have a chemical imbalance and that’s why I am seeing you to find the right medication to get chemicals balanced in my brain.”

I often hear the above statement from patients who seek consultation with me for their mental health. In 1960s, psychiatry researchers developed the catecholamine or biogenic amino hypothesis of mood disorder, which led to the concept that an imbalance in neurotransmitters resulted in abnormal moods. This has become how media portrays mental health and treatment. While there is still a role for neurotransmitters, their role is to be understood in the context of the entire brain metabolism. The microbiome and inflammation (among other things like oxidative stress and  mitochrondrial function) all relate to understanding the brain metabolism mechanics. 

Our bodies are a highly complex ecosystem including 39 trillion bacteria, mostly good, inside and on our bodies’ surface. The majority of the bacteria within our bodies (known as the microbiome) work in complex ways to promote and maintain our health by interacting with cells and organs in various ways. Some gut bacteria have endocrine functions and make oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals activate certain signals in the brain and thus affect our mood (G. Clarke et al). Another example is the Lactobacillus plantarum that produces metabolites that stimulate an anti-inflammatory response by intestinal stem cells which would help with healing (A. F. Athiyyah et al.) . 

The microbiome starts at birth after passing through the birth canal, and is shaped  by breast milk first and then diet, environment and human contact throughout our lives. This is why I often ask my patients if they were delivered by cesarean section  and if they were breastfed or bottle fed. This is why it is also important to know if a patient had a gastric bypass as their microbiome has been changed following the surgery. 

A majority of the immune system is located in the gut. The immune  system decides which bacteria and foods are “safe and good”, and which ones need to be defended against by producing certain chemicals that cause inflammatory signals. These signals travel to the brain which can eventually lead to depression and other mental health problems.

Chronic inflammation does not give the body time to heal which results in continued damage to the internal lining of  the intestines. As a result, inflammatory signals and bacteria move to other parts of the body and negatively impact it. All this disturbs the microbiome (also known as gut dysbiosis) which in turn impacts the brain. This is why I ask patients what kind of food they eat, how they find they feel after eating certain foods and whether they tried to eliminate certain foods from their diet. 

Other causes for gut dysbiosis are broad spectrum antibiotic use, chronic stress, a poor diet and the modern environment being too clean. 

So, I tell my patients there is an increase amount of evidence that what we eat affects how we feel, and that every choice we make relative to our diet matters. Keeping a diet journal is a good start to gut and brain health recovery.  


The Emerging Field of Nutritional Mental Health: Inflammation, the Microbiome, Oxidative Stress, and Mitochondrial Function

Berk M, LJ Jacka, FN, Oneil A, Passo JA, Moylau S, Byrne ML 2013. So Depression isan Inflammation  Disease, But Where Does the Inflammation Come From? British. Medical Journal of Medicine

Eat to Beat Disease, William Li, MD

Gardner and Bolles. 2005. “Beyond the Serotonin Hypothesis.”

G Clarke et Al. “Minireview: gut microbiota: the neglected endocrine organ.” Molecular endrocrnlogy 28, no. 8 (2014):1221-1238. 

A.F. Athiyyah et al., “Lactobacillus Platarum IS-10506 Activates intestinal Stem Cells in a Rodent Model,” Beneficial  Microbes (May 4, 2018):1-6.

Mind Body Medicine Sioux City

Using the Mind to Heal the Body

In guided imagery, you use your “mind’s eye” to picture the situation you are dealing with or the disease that is affecting you. Guided imagery connects the mind and the body by activating the parasympathetic response which results in relaxation. The body does not discern the difference between an image and reality and reacts with the same response of relaxation to imagery. In a state of total relaxation, the mind and body respond more to healing and growth.   Research has found that athletes that use imagery as part of a comphrensive program for healing after injury healed feaster Ievleva and Orlick (1999). 

Imagery involves using all of the senses to create an experience. There are two types of imagery: direct (when you choose a specific part in the body to heal), indirect (an image of something healing to promote a healing response in the body). 

Using imagery in the medical field has been studied in different areas. For example, cancer research on using imagery (psychoneuroimmunology) has found that patients report improvement in mood, decreased anxiety, decreased pain after surgery and improvement in quality of life (Baider et al., 2001; Burns, 2001; Donaldson, 2000). Patients with cancer are asked to visualize an army of soldiers (macrophages in the immune system) surrounding an enemy of invaders (cancer) and eventually subduing them. In other cases, patients were asked to visualize more abstract non tangible images, like certain colors, or flowing water as a source of healing going through the entire body.Dr Martin Rossman (Integrative Medicine) lists some areas where guided imagery can used for, including preparing for surgery, coping with chronic illness, managing pain and gear. 

Guided imagery can be done alone, listening to a recording or with an experienced guide. A guided imagery script usually include starting in a calm place, and has the listener imaging how s/he may approach a problem, or visualize the program change into something else. During this process, the person  becomes active in their own healing process, rather than being passive. 

Anyone can benefit from guided imagery, including adults and children. It may be harder at the beginning for adults to listen to a guided imagery as they tend to analyze the script. However, with continued practice, the benefits of guided imagery increase. Guided imagery is not meant to replace getting medical care or working with a healthcare professional, but is rather meant to enhance recovery and healing. People that have a history of trauma or psychosis should be cautious when using guided imagery and consult with a healthcare professional. 

Some resources that you may want to check out are: