Health and Healing with Emmanuel Birstein

Serotonin Depression and Your Gut

Jan 2018

It is widely known that serotonin is an important brain neurotransmitter that is relevant to depression, migraine, and other neuropsychiatric illnesses. This knowledge has been the basis for the explosion of psychotropic drugs in the treatment of such ailments in the last 30 years. Since the launch of Prozac (fluoxetine) in 1987, it has become commonly understood that depression is largely the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain caused by subnormal levels of serotonin. BUT, what we've only begun to learn is that serotonin isn't just in the brain. It is estimated that about 95% of serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and serotonin is now considered a prime mediator in the brain–gut connection that we have been hearing so much about in the last decade.

It may be new to some, but the classification of the gut as a "second brain" is rapidly infiltrating our understanding of health and disease in a much more holistic way. Not just as alternative science, but it is at the core of medical science. What we call "gut feelings," or butterflies in the stomach, or pangs in the solar plexis are only a small part of the picture. In fact, since the launch of the Human Microbiome Project in 2008, we are learning by leaps and bounds how the gut's second brain influences our mental health.

In an article in the February, 2010 issue of Scientific American, Think Twice: How the Gut's 'Second Brain' Influences Mood and Well-Being, the author talks about the mass of neural tissue in the gut and bowels which is filled with important neurotransmitters. New discoveries reveal that this neural tissue does much more than merely handle digestion. In fact:
The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body.
Researchers are concluding that a big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut.The second brain influences our state of mind in direct and more obscure ways. The nerves in our gut can trigger the physiological stress response of butterflies in the stomach. But, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below (the gut) to the brain above. For example, electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve—a recenty treatment for depression—may mimic these signals. See: Michael Gerson, The Second Brain (1998).

Given the two brains' commonalities and connections, other depression treatments, those that target the mind, can unintentionally impact the gut. The enteric nervous system (the neurons that govern the gastrointestinal system), for instance, uses more than 30 neurotransmitters. So when antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels, it is little wonder that medication meant to cause chemical changes in the mind often provoke GI issues as a side effect. Irritable bowel syndrome—which afflicts more than two million Americans—also arises in part from too much serotonin in our intestines, and could perhaps be regarded as a "mental illness" of the second brain (Think Twice: How the Gut's 'Second Brain' Influences Mood and Well-Being).

Keeping in mind that the the gut-brain transmission of information is a two-way street, and that the neural mass and serotonin levels in the gut are so significant, treatment of mental health disorders like depression may be better served by treatment from the bottom up. Manual therapies, like  visceral and neural manipulation, that focus on the stomach and intestines can boost the production of serotonin and improve state of mind and well-being.

At PIMH, we offer this treatment. Below is feedback from a young woman who received this treatment from Emmanuel Birstein, LMT CST. This was a teenage girl who presented depressed and in tears, claiming she had been miserable for several years. Nobody loved her. She could not study and did not want to go to school. Emmanuel performed visceral manipulations of her abdomen to boost the production of serotonin, "the happiness hormone.” Six days after this session she wrote to him:
Hello Many thanks. Now I feel happy, all the time. I want to laugh and dance. In addition, I became confident that I will overcome all the difficulties, and I have enough strength to reach my goal (I used to doubt it). I have a feeling that a little sun has settled inside of me. I feel warm and cozy. And most importantly - I am now very calm all the time.
Follow-up a month later, revealed that the girl continued to feel well and happy. She felt loved by her parents who also played an important role in her recovery.

To schedule an appointment with Emmanuel Birstein, call: 412-687-1234 or CONTACT US.

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