Every morning I read through all the latest news on the biome, both micro and macro. I am excited about the onslaught of new research looking at the gut-brain connection. As I mentioned in my previous post, this concept was the basis of my very first lesson on chronic illness. (In my case, my son’s autism was the focus.) On the other hand, I always feel a deep sense of frustration: if I was learning about this stuff 20 years ago, why is it only now that the medical establishment is REALLY paying attention?
It was just this morning that I read for the first time that the connection between the gut biome and mental health is finally so well established that scientists have given it a name: Psychobiotics.
“Now that we know that gut bacteria can speak to the brain—in ways that affect our mood, our appetite, and even our circadian rhythms—the next challenge for scientists is to control this communication. The science of psychobiotics, reviewed October 25 in Trends in Neurosciences, explores emerging strategies for planting brain-altering bacteria in the gut to provide mental benefits and the challenges ahead in understanding how such products could work for humans.”1
NOW that we know that gut bacteria can speak to the brain?! Grrrr. I was told that 2 decades ago, and it wasn’t new news then! Yes, yes, I know: science can only progress so fast. First and foremost, it’s a business – and whatever makes the most money will get the most money, in terms of funding. Secondly though, it’s also true that the human body is so unbelievably complex that it boggles the mind. Back to Sid Baker’s spider web analogy: everything in the body affects everything else. Heaven knows how many processes are occurring through the body and cells at one time, and if one tiny thing goes askew, the entire organism is tipped into imbalance – like dominoes falling. Rationally speaking, I know that inch by inch, scientific knowledge progresses.
Where does that leave us though, who are in the trenches right now, battling incredible suffering in ourselves and/or our children? “If it can’t hurt and it could help, do it,” I’ve told myself for the last 20 years. And if there’s any doubt about the “hurt” part, put the potential treatment on the risk/reward scale and see how things fall.
About 15 years ago or so, I was at an autism medical conference, and was privileged to see a talk about the gut-brain connection given by Dr. Martha Herbert. Dr. Herbert is an eminent neurologist at Harvard/Mass General, and has been a huge proponent of, as she says, “the brain being downstream from the gut.” As she concluded her talk, she acknowledged that we are in the earliest stages of understanding this connection but felt that even then, the evidence was strong enough to support families taking measures to improve the health of the gut biome to treat their children’s autistic symptoms. “When faced with prolonged scientific uncertainty,” she said, “Use your best judgement.” I quickly wrote down her exact words ensuring I would never forget them. Right there, she summed up my philosophy far more eloquently than I ever could. I’ve lived by that mantra from the day my son was first diagnosed.
But back to where science is today. Over time, I am looking forward to sharing with you whatever new information comes down the pipeline. I will also review great stuff that has appeared of the last few years. No matter who you are, whether or not you are suffering from an illness or are in perfect health and want to stay that way, trying to improve the health of the biome can’t hurt and could help.