Gut Inflammation Can Adversely Alter Your Brain

By Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

August 30, 2010

Gut Inflammation Can Adversely Alter Your Brain
A new study suggests that inflammation in your digestive tract1 can be a source of cognitive decline and reduced tolerance for pain. The researchers demonstrated actual adverse physical changes in brain structure in patients with inflammatory bowel disorders.

Utilizing advanced imaging technology, the researchers were able to show that female patients with irritable bowel (about 15% of the population) have structural changes in key areas of their brain. One of the areas that processes pain indicates more sensitivity to digestive pain. The other area involved with cognition and evaluation, links poor digestive health directly to cognitive decline or reduced human potential.

The researchers could not determine from their work which came first, the digestive problems or the brain alterations. However, I would hypothesize that the gut changes came first. Several mechanisms are likely. Digestive tract inflammation will send inflammatory nerve signals up the vagus nerve, into the brain stem, and then rile up the glial cells in the brain. The increased inflammation of these glial cells then induces inflammatory/free radical brain injury. Another aspect is that the digestive inflammation induces a “leaky gut” and toxic waste products from the gut which enters the general circulation and crosses the blood brain barrier, once again inflaming glial cells to induce brain injury.

Regardless of the exact mechanism, this new study paints a sobering picture of the consequences of ongoing digestive inflammation. Working hard to fix this health issue is a top priority for maintaining your health, including your cognitive health.

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