The incidence of gut-related disorders and issues is on the rise in the United States. In fact, nearly 20 percent of all doctor visits are for gastrointestinal complaints. Also on the rise are childhood neuropsychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, and other learning disabilities. Could there be a connection?
The answer is yes.
There is a strong connection between the health of one’s gut and the health of one’s brain. After all, the gut is the means by which our gastrointestinal system–with its trillions of microbiota and hundreds of millions of neurons–and brain communicate.
Scientists have discovered many neuropsychological diseases–such as ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities–may be caused by problems with gut microbiota. There is a strong association between “leaky gut” (also known as intestinal permeability) and “leaky brain.” When the gut becomes permeable, which can result from poor diet, stress, antibiotic use, etc., it allows toxins and inflammation-producing substances to be absorbed into the bloodstream. The result is inflammation of the brain. When the brain becomes inflamed, the blood-brain barrier subsequently becomes “leaky”–thus allowing toxins to penetrate the brain.
One study revealed 43 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder were found to have intestinal permeability and mucosal damage.
Further, nearly 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is housed in the gut. Those individuals with ADHD, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders, and other learning disabilities often experience poor immune health. If the immune system is functioning poorly, harmful pathogens can easily enter one’s body and potentially affect the brain.
Individuals with ADHD also experience low levels of serotonin–a chemical that is made in the gut. Serotonin has a wide range of jobs from regulating one’s sleep cycle to contributing to feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Individuals with ADHD commonly experience sleep issues and stress and anxiety.
The health of the gut is a strong determinant of the health of the person. The gut itself is so important, in fact, that some researchers refer to it as our “second brain.” Therefore, when you improve the gut microbiome, it helps the whole body.
Ways to improve the gut microbiome include consuming garlic, green tea, kefir, and cabbage juice as well as a high-quality probiotic. Additionally, eating foods rich in antioxidants–such as berries, nuts, and beans–will also help. For adults and especially children, avoiding overuse of antibiotics (which kill off the “good” gut bacteria) is important as well. Finally, reducing stress and anxiety while improving sleep will help improve the health of one’s gut.