The Connection Between The Gut And The Brain

Presenter: Katherine
Guest: Dr. Nathan Francis
Guest Bio: He’s the president of the Australasian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine, otherwise known as A5M, and this year’s conference, the focus is on obesity and metabolic syndrome.


Health Professional Radio

Katherine: Thanks for listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Katherine, and today we are joined by Doctor Nathan Francis. He’s the president of the Australasian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine, otherwise known as A5M, and this year’s conference, the focus is on obesity and metabolic syndrome. Today, we’re going to be talking about that brain connection. Welcome to our show, Dr. Francis.

Dr. Nathan Francis: Yeah, good morning.  Thank you very much for inviting me.

Katherine: Now, can you please explain to us: what is the connection between the gut and the brain?

Dr. Nathan: Well, our colleagues from over 2000 years ago have been aware of this connection.  The acupuncture doctors have been using acupuncture points from the legs that all of them travel to the gut and up to the brain.  And Ayurvedic medicines also concentrate on the gut with herbs and [indecipherable 01:00] etcetera.  But, we now realise that the old saying, “We are what we eat,” there’s more than apply to that, because there’s food allergens, can affect the gut, and also the bacteria in the bowel can affect the gut.  And I’ll elucidate them later if you wish.

Katherine: Sure.  With, say, the gut, for example, there are neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.  Can you tell us how the unhealthy gut – what effects are put out into the body and how it can go out of balance?

Dr. Nathan: Bacteria in the large bowel that produces neurotransmitters – for example, E. coli and strep – produce the dopamine and serotonin, and consequently, they affect the neurotransmitters in the brain.  Some American doctors have been using this to treat children with autism and ADHD.  They do special stool testing, bowel testing to detect the levels of E. coli and strep, and by increasing this level, it increases the formation of this neurotransmitters.  So, the unhealthy gut can cause an imbalance, with reduction in numbers of E. coli and strep.

Often in conventional medicine, we tend to look at these bugs as pathogens – and quite rightly, when there’s an overabundance of that, E. coli can cause diarrhoea and dehydration, and step can cause septicaemia.  But we’ve got to get the right balance, and it is balance that’s important.

Katherine: Can you tell us what Leaky Gut Syndrome is?

Dr. Nathan: Well, let’s make an analogy here, which we can all relate to.  For example, somebody who has severe hay fever, has nasal congestion and drowsiness, and foggy brain, and the eyes are itchy.  Now in the gut, in the small intestine, the lining of the small intestine has to be tightly packed together.  In fact, every three days, a new lining is formed.  When the junction between the cells is not a tight junction, it allows foreign material to go from inside the gut to outside, to the immune system that lines below the cells of the small intestine.

Consequently, a huge immunological reaction occurs.  In fact, the gut has got the most complex immune system in the body.  So with a leaky gut, you get foreign materials like foods, food allergens, bacteria going in and stirring up the immune complexes below, the [indecipherable 04:25] as we doctors like to call them.  That sets off this huge immune reaction, very analogous to somebody with hay fever.

Katherine: I see.  Can you please tell us a little about the link between the digestive imbalance and also mental health?  Is there a correlation there?

Dr. Nathan: Yes, there is a correlation on quite a few levels.  Just coming back to the leaky gut, for instance, the foreign allergens can stir up the immune system and cause mood disorders, depression, and also other systemic problems.  We also know that gluten, for example, can cause a huge array of mood disorders.  These are non-celiac patients that can have depression, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD.  I’m not suggesting that gluten is the cause of all these problems, but in a few cases it is.

Just by removing gluten causes the relief in their depression or their schizophrenia, or the ADHD.  I’ve had some examples of such cases.  Looking at another level, the allergens like fructose, for example, can also cause not only a local live reaction in the gut, but also effect the brain.

Katherine: I see.  Gastrointestinal diseases have also been linked to, such as you say, mental issues such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and other things.  So it really is quite amazing, the link between the gut and the brain, isn’t it?

Dr. Nathan: That’s right.  That’s why our colleagues going back many thousands of years have realised that by treating those acupuncture points it can affect the brain, and we have also seen example of liver detoxification.  It’s such a foreign term to traditional doctors, but that can also affect the moods by getting rid of a lot of chemical imbalances in the body.  It’s quite dramatic, the effect of food allergens, how they can affect these mood disorders.  And also quite dramatic how in certain patients, gluten can affect these mood disorders.

Katherine: What about the philosophy of yourself, an interrogative practitioner?  What are some of the tools and protocols that you use to bring a patient with a leaky gut, or some of these gastrointestinal diseases back into balance?

Dr. Nathan: Well, let me first clear up the confusion about what an integrative practitioner does.  An integrative practitioner looks at selecting the best investigations and treatment plan for the patient, from both a Western traditional base to a non-pharmaceutical base.  So, I’ll give you an example.  Sleep for example.  A patient coming in complaining of poor sleep.  The traditional approach is to give them a sleeping tablet or give them an antidepressant tablet, depending on the patient.

But however, an integrative doctor can look at inducing sleep with meditation or herbs, or maintaining that sleep with herbs, melatonin, and meditation.  If one suspects depression, one can do a neurotransmitter test, which identifies the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, and depending on a deficiency or excess of those neurotransmitters, the integrative practitioner can either use conventional antidepressants, or herbs, or medication.  So, this is an example of how an integrative practitioner uses these tools.

Coming back to the gut, the integrative practitioner has access to a huge array of tests, a complete digestive stool analysis, which can even use gene technology to pick up dead bacteria and dead parasites.  The integrative practitioner can do liver detoxification testing to look at all the pathways that breaks down medications and foreign toxins.  Also, the integrative practitioner can do a special urine organic test to check for the excess toxins from bacteria.

So the integrative practitioner is well armed to use— not only using conventional testing like x-rays and endoscopies and colonoscopies to rule out serious pathology, but also the majority of patients who do not have serious pathology, the integrative practitioner is well aware of other forms of tests that can optimise that patient’s health and bring it back into balance.

Katherine: I see.  How can the gut health be linked to weight management?

Dr. Nathan: Well, there are so many different aspects to this.  One aspect is food allergens.  For example, as we all know, the Americans are very obese, and it’s been linked to their high intake of fructose, for example in corn syrup, and excess carbs and gluten.  So, food allergies is one cause of weight management.  It’s not the sole cause, but it is something to be considered in a person that does not respond to traditional diets.

The other thing is, we do know that, as I mentioned before, the bacteria can cause formation of neurotransmitters, and some patients who are depressed or lack motivation, it’s possible to increase those levels by correcting gut health.  The other thing that’s part of the gut is the liver, and some patients do respond very well to a liver detoxification protocol.  So, it’s selecting the right plan for the right patient, if you give them assistance with their weight management.

Katherine: Yeah, thank you for that.  Once again, Dr. Nathan Francis will be in Melbourne for the Australasian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine Conference that’s happening on the 23rd to 25th of August.  For those of you that would like to know more, the website is  Dr. Francis, thanks for your time today.

Dr. Nathan: Thank you very much, Katherine.