Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Restorative Health Solutions blog!
You have now learned about the first four R’s of the leaky gut protocol (remove, replace, repair and reinoculate). Most clinics and physicians practice the 4 R Protocol for leaky gut. At RHS, we decided to add a fifth R: Rehab. The rehab portion of the protocol is specific to brain rehab.
I know, you are probably saying “I have leaky gut. What in the world does that have to do with my brain?” Please, let me explain our rationale!
The Brain-Gut Axis or Gut-Brain Axis
Over the last 10 years or so, one of the hottest areas in research has been the Brain-Gut Axis. This research looks into how the brain and the gut are connected, but it also looks at what happens to the gut if the brain is injured/affected and what happens to the brain if the gut is injured/affected.
One of the biggest topics that has been studied is what happens to the gut after a traumatic brain injury or concussion. These studies, done mainly on rats and mice, show that when a traumatic brain injury or concussion is suffered, the microbiome (all the microbes or bugs in the gut) changes and leaky gut occurs typically within hours of the traumatic brain injury.
The changes they see in the microbiome are negative changes. An imbalance between the good and bad microbes starts to occur. Eventually, the studies show that dysbiosis occurs. Dysbiosis is a term used to describe too many bad/opportunistic bacteria when compared to the good bacteria.
As you can see, a negative change in brain function can have negative downstream effects on the gut.
But How Does the Brain Impact the Gut When They Are so Far Away From One Another?
In the brainstem, the part of your brain that lies between the brain (cerebral cortex) and the spinal cord, is where your vagus nerve originates. The cluster of neurons in the brainstem is referred to the dorsal motor nucleus (DMN). This nucleus is central station that sends and receives information to and from the vagus nerve. Out of the brainstem, specifically the medulla oblongata, the vagus nerve branches out and goes to multiple different areas of the body. In Latin, vagus means “the vagabond” or “wanderer” because it is the longest cranial nerve and innervates (nerve supply to an organ or body part) the heart, lungs, and a majority of the abdominal organs including the proximal two-thirds of the gut (stomach, small intestine and the first part of the large intestine).
When a nerve signal is created in the brainstem, the message is sent down the nerve and into the gut to promote function. Here are some of the functions the vagus nerve is responsible for in the gut:
- Increasing digestive enzyme output
- Increasing blood flow to the gut
- Increasing gallbladder contraction to push bile into the GI tract
- Increasing gut motility (movement of food through the GI tract)
Without the vagus nerve, these functions fail. If you don’t have sufficient digestive enzymes, you can’t break down your food optimally. When blood flow is less than optimal to the gut, it’s tough to heal/repair the gut and, therefore, absorb nutrients efficiently. If the gallbladder doesn’t contract and release bile into the system, it’s tough to break down fats in your diet. Lastly, when motility is impaired, food is slow to move through the GI tract, which can lead to constipation and subsequent infections of the gut.
How Do You Know If Your Brain Needs Rehab in Order to Help Your Gut?
Included in your first appointment is a comprehensive functional neurological examination. This exam looks at various parts of the brain and nervous system to determine what areas are working optimally and what areas need improvement in function. If the examination revealed optimal functioning throughout the nervous system with no neurological symptoms (poor balance, motion sickness, nausea, dizziness, headaches, light/sound sensitivity, brain fog etc), then brain rehab may not be needed. If areas within the brain and nervous system need to improve in function and/or you have neurological symptoms, then we recommend going through functional neurological rehab. This part of the protocol focuses on giving you specific exercises to stimulate specific areas of the brain or nervous system that need improvement in functioning. Here is a blog article that goes deeper into the functional neurology approach (provide link to blog)
When you improve function in certain areas of the brain that feed into the same areas that control gut function (vagus), the brain then can increase the amount of input/signals into the gut to promote optimal gut function. We believe that this piece of the protocol is the most important step in trying to lessen the chance that leaky gut returns. If this part isn’t addressed and you need it, symptoms can start to return within a few months after completing the 4 R protocol. Improved brain function should only help improve gut function and improved gut function should only help brain function. Also, the impact the brain has on the gut may not be as noticeable if the goal is to try and lessen the chances of leaky gut returning instead of drastically reducing symptoms.
Depending on the case, we may choose to do this part of the protocol more towards the beginning if the exam shows significant findings that need to be addressed immediately versus waiting until we are further along with the 4R part of the protocol.
If this is the last step in the leaky gut protocol in your case, you should hopefully notice a difference in your health. However, like in most cases, it’s more complicated than just doing the leaky gut protocol. That’s why we will continue to do blog articles on different diseases/conditions that impact the gut along with other factors that influence gut health.
In our next blog, we will go in-depth about another popular topic in functional medicine: food sensitivities.
Until then, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself! Knowledge is power. Don’t stop learning and always stay positive!
What Can Restorative Health Solutions do for You?
At Restorative Health Solutions, we strive to get to the root cause of the symptoms/condition and help patients reach their optimal health. We also guarantee to replace the one-size-fits-all approach with a personalized plan for YOU! If you or a loved one is having any suspicions of leaky gut or is interested in getting a thorough and complete work-up, we’d be happy to help. To schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of the doctors, please call 952-479-7801 or CLICK HERE to fill out our contact form.