By Matthew C. Popkin, M.D.
Recently there has been a lot of interest in studying whether the proper balance of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome can be used to cure or prevent neurological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression. Focusing on natural, non-pharmacologic repair of the gut microbiome using dietary and lifestyle modification along with certain supplements that can remove offending toxins and replace and support a healthy bacterial flora with pre and probiotics would be of particular interest to many of those who want to take personal control of their healthcare and treat the symptoms of PTSD.
It has long been understood that there is a gut-brain connection whereby intestinal bacteria have an effect on the human brain and mood. As it pertains to PTSD the suggestion is that gut microbes play a strong role in the body’s response to stressful situations, as well as in who might be susceptible to develop PTSD.
The trillions of microbes in the intestinal tract, commonly referred to as the gut microbiome, perform a myriad of functions in the human body such as digesting food, regulating the immune system (70-80% of our immune system resides in the gut) and even producing the neurotransmitter signals to the brain that alter mood and behavior. In fact, the gut is commonly referred to as the body’s second brain as 80-90% of our neurotransmitters are either made or manipulated in the gut. The question is can a healthy gut microbiome improve mental and physical resilience in stressful situations ranging from our everyday work and home stressors, poor dietary habits, disrupted circadian rhythms causing poor sleep hygiene on up to the most traumatic situations? The answer is yes.
There is growing research showing that gut bacteria can have a profound effect on mood and demeanor. One such research study by Bienenstock and Frosythe sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Ontario Canada showed that they were able to control the moods of anxious mice by feeding them healthy microbes from fecal material collected from calm mice. The researchers collected fecal samples from stressed mice and compared them to those from calm mice. What they found was an imbalance in the gut microbiota of the stressed mice. There was less diversity in the types of bacteria present.
The gut microbiome is a very complex ecosystem with a delicate balance of different strains of healthy bacteria. If there is less diversity of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome there will be a larger negative impact on mood and behavior.
They then fed the stressed mice the same probiotics (live bacteria) found in the calm mice and examined the new fecal samples. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a non-invasive analytical technique using powerful MRI technology, they also studied changes in brain chemistry. Not only did the behavior of the mice improve dramatically with the probiotic treatment, but it continued to get better for several weeks afterward. Also, the MRS technology enabled them to see certain chemical biomarkers in the brain when the mice were stressed and when they were taking the probiotics.
The researchers surmised that stress biomarkers could potentially indicate if someone is suffering from PTSD or risks developing it, allowing for treatment or prevention with probiotics and antibiotics.
The researchers are planning on conducting clinical trials to administer probiotics to human volunteers and use MRS to monitor brain reactions to different stress levels (1).
So how does our gut microbiome become damaged? Commonly prescribed antibiotics destroy the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut. Even if you don’t take antibiotics you are getting them in the animal products you are consuming as most large animal farms use huge quantities of antibiotics and hormones to produce the animals that we eat. These hormones also affect our delicate endocrine system leading to further neurochemistry disruption and mood changes. Toxins and pesticides such as Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up, that is found in much of our non-organic food sources due to its use as a pesticide and crop desiccant, kills our gut bacteria in the same manner that it kills weeds and insects when these foods are produced on farms. Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are foods like corn for example that are genetically modified to grow bigger, faster and resistant to the pesticides that are used to help produce these foods sources.
So as you can see we are destroying our own gut microbiome with the foods we are eating. The good news is that this is something that we can control for the most part.
We can only take antibiotics when truly needed as opposed to asking the doctor for antibiotics at the first sign of viral-induced cold symptoms. Doctors can educate patients better on the appropriate use of antibiotics and not give in to the pressure of prescribing something just because the person says my other doctor always prescribed this for me. We can avoid GMO foods and eat organic whenever possible. We can decrease our animal consumption which will decrease our exposure to antibiotics and hormones as well as increase the compassion and decrease the suffering and exploitation these factory farmed animals endure. We can also take natural supplement products that remove toxins from our gut and replace and support healthy gut bacteria with the use of pre and probiotics.
I just finished conducting an IRB approved proof of concept research study on a novel product called Biome Medic that uses a naturally occurring Humic/Fulvic compound that will remove glyphosate and other toxins from the body and replace the healthy gut bacteria using a probiotic that will be supported using a prebiotic. In a 6-week clinical trial, Biome Medic decreased glyphosate levels by approximately 75%, decreased systemic inflammation as measured by hsCRP by approximately 75% and increased gut immune function as measured by food sensitivity testing by approximately 35% (2).
The hope is that using a product such as Biome Medic will repair the damaged gut microbiome and improve the biological functions the gut is designed to perform including digestion, immune system function, and neurotransmitter production.
Further research is being planned to determine whether these improvements in gut performance will have a positive effect on most of our commonly seen ailments including decreasing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer as well as curing or preventing neurological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression.
The future of gut microbiology to enhance the gut microbiome is going to be determined by the research that is done to link improved gut health and function with improvements in the disease states that are caused by gut dysfunction. Advancements in the field of gut health will have far-ranging impacts on human behavior and show tremendous promise toward a more natural and appropriate treatment of neurological conditions including PTSD. Thankfully most people can take the beginning steps in curing their own compromised microbiome by making the natural, dietary and lifestyle modifications to improve their overall health.
1. S. Leclercq, P. Forsythe, J. Bienenstock. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Does the Gut Microbiome Hold the Key? The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2016; 61 (4): 204 DOI: 10.1177/0706743716635535
2. Matthew C. Popkin, M.D., James Blum, Ph.D. Glyphosate Proof-of-Concept Trial. Final Institutional Research Board submission 11/17/2017.