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Medical Research on The Gut

August 14, 2012

”The gut is important in medical research, not just for problems pertaining to the digestive system but also problems pertaining to the rest of the body,”  Dr. Pankaj J. Pasricha, chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Psychiatric and brain conditions may often be linked with gastrointestinal issues. In one study Dr. Pasricha and his team  experimented in the lab by irritating the stomachs of newborn rats. By the time the animals were just 8 to 10 weeks old the physical irritation had healed, but these animals displayed more depressed and anxious behaviour than a control group of rats who were left without interference.

Compared to control groups, rats with gastrointestinal disruption also showed increased sensitivity to stress and produced more “stress hormones”, in a study published in a Public Library of Science journal, PLoS One.

Meanwhile researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, have demonstrated that bacteria in the gut are involved in how the body responds to stress. The exact mechanism is unknown, but certain bacteria may facilitate important interactions between the gut and the brain.

Electrically stimulating the vagus nerve (which connects the gut and the brain) has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of epilepsy and depression and one treatment has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Animal studies show an improvement in learning and memory.

In a study of 23 autistic children and nine typically developing kids, a bacterium unique to the intestines of those with autism called Sutterella was discovered. The results, published online in the journal mBio by researchers at Columbia’s school of public health, suggest that Sutterella may be a significant link between autism and digestive ailments.

Dr. Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia, has been studying how the gut controls its behaviour and that of other organs via the neurotransmitter serotonin. About 95% of the total serotonin in the body is made in the gut and is then transported up to the brain. Several common antidepressants work by raising levels of serotonin in the brain as low levels are linked to a decline in mood and sleep disturbance.

Work by Dr. Gershon and others has shown that serotonin produced by gut neurons is necessary for many important actvities including the movement of food through the gut, the repair of cells in the liver and lungs, and the development of the heart and bone-mass.

Reviewing this research sets up an interesting foundation before I explore the traditional teachings of The East on this subject.

Spencer Joseph

From → The Gut

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