Health and Healing with Emmanuel Birstein

Concussion Traumatic Brain Injury and Your Gut

Dec 2017

By now you've heard about the brain-gut connection. But here is an interesting new take on this phenomenon.

Can my concussion cause intestinal problems?
Answer: The answer is yes. And now we know that the opposite is true as well. Intestinal changes and infections can cause post-traumatic brain inflammation and associated tissue loss. It is a two-way street.

The brain–gut connection has gained awareness as a major contributor to human health for some time now, but the gut-brain axis has turned out to be equally important. It's not just a top-down but also a bottom-up relationship. Recent studies in Neuroscience News  and Microorganisims  provide additional insight and implications for daily health.

Neuroscience News (November 2017) published a summary of findings from the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. According to the study of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in mice, researchers found that TBI can trigger delayed, long-term changes in the colon and that subsequent bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal system can increase posttraumatic brain inflammation and associated tissue loss. This two-way focus suggests that TBI may trigger a vicious cycle, in which brain injury causes gut dysfunction, which then has the potential to worsen the original brain injury. According to the original article in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (Volume 66, November 2017 pp. 31-44), existing pre-clinical data specific to TBI indicates that head injuries can cause structural and functional damage to the GI tract, but research directly investigating the neuronal consequences of this intestinal damage is lacking. Despite this void, the proposed mechanisms emanating from a damaged gut are closely implicated in the inflammatory processes known to promote neuropathology in the brain following TBI. This suggests that the gut-brain axis may be a therapeutic target to reduce the risk of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other neurodegenerative diseases following TBI.

An extensive review of recent research on the bi-directional nature of the gut-brain connection appears in the October 2017 Issue of Microorganisms, The Gut Microbiome Feelings of the Brain: A Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. While many reviews have focused on the top-down, brain to gut axis, this review expands and updates from the bottom-up, namely, the gut to brain axis. This entails multiple environmental factors, gut eco-events and the two major players, nutrients and the second brain, the microbiome.

Emmanuel Birstein is a trained and gifted practitioner and healer at PIMH. He provides light-touch manual therapies aimed at treating the "axis" of problems (brain to gut" and "gut to brain") that arise from concussions and other brain injuries. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.
According to the Microorganisms review article, the two opposite directions refer to a bidirectional communication that mutually affects and depends on the other (brain and gut) but it engulfs multiple intricate systems that were shaped during human evolution to maintain homeostasis and protect the body against detrimental factors, establishing symbiotic relations between bugs and us. Several pathways are suggested to deliver information from the intestinal tract to the brain: neuroanatomical, neuroendocrine, immune, macrobiotic and all gut and brain barrier pathways. Afferent vagus routes also play an essential role in bringing the lower signals up to the brain. In fact, the balanced functioning of the gut–brain axis depends on normal functional activity of the vagal nerve.

Overall, the review reflects a non-infectious, gastroenterological view, and as such, concentrates more on the enteric (intestinal) eco-events than on the very complicated central nervous system, which is a never-ending labyrinth. The implications for treatment of traumatic brain injury points directly to holistic approaches that involve not only the brain and nervous system, but novel preventive and therapeutic strategies, including nutritional approaches, microbiome manipulations, and enteric and brain barrier reinforcement that might improve physical and mental health outcomes.
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