Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Journey Through the GI System: Search for the Second Brain in my Stomach

The enteric nervous system is embedded in the ...Image via Wikipedia

My journey through my gastroenterology system began when I started to look at the comorbidities surrounding nonverbal learning disorder. This look at physical ailments associated with the learning disorder had me running to a developmental optometrist for an eye exam more complete than what a standard ophthalmologists gives, and audiologists who specializes in hearing problems of people with disabilities and extraordinary talents, and ear, nose, and throat specialist to check out the biology of those parts of the body, an occupational therapist to work on functional deficits, and finally, specialist who work with the G.I. system (gastroenterology).

I have complained during all my physicals throughout my entire life that I have had a lot of gas.  No family doctor was ever interested enough to pursue it.  As far as they were concerned, I was still standing, so no big deal.  But, given all the comorbidities, I decided to get to the bottom of it.

The first person I saw was the nutritionist. She quickly started to point the finger towards vitamin deficiencies of b 12, and d possibly from malabsorption. So, off I go to a G.I. specialist. He ran a lot of blood work. Didn't find anything. Next I get looked at from stem to stern: that is, I got an endoscopy and then a colonoscopy. I must say that lying on the table before the anesthetic knocked me out for the colonoscopy I seriously wondered why I was doing this to myself. Well, he found a few minor things: a little gastritis, and one polyp that he put on the watch list to be monitored in five years. He took some more specimens and found something that might point to malabsorption.

I do want to get to the bottom of things, pardon the pun. Running around with a vitamin deficiency certainly isn't going to help my cognitive problems. In fact, vitamin deficiencies are well-known to be associated with cognitive problems. If a nutritionist is going to try to fix my vitamins and repair the bacteria in my stomach, making sure my G.I. system absorbs all the nutrients is going to help her.

In a larger sense, I do think there are much broader issues at stake. I think that scientists are working towards a more holistic sense of the body. Candace pert in her book, Molecules of Emotion, states, "The mind is the body, and the body is the mind". She posits that there is an information network of neuropeptides and and their receptors located throughout the body: in the brain, stomach, glands, etc. that link body and mind and emotions. This network is a two-way street. The brain is not in complete control. It sends and receives messages from other parts of the body. Bodily dysfunctions implicate your mental state; and, vice versa.

This line of thought has been backed up by Michael Gershon, the father of Nerogastroenterology. In fact, he calls the enteric nervous system (the nerves and nervous system associated with the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and colon) the second brain. It is possible for the enteric nervous system to function without being connected to the brain as has been the case in people who have had severed their vagus nerve which connect the enteric system to the brain. There are hundreds of millions of nerve endings in the G.I. system. Far too many nerve endings to be controlled by a few thousand strands that make up the vagus nerve. Michael Gershon discovered that the stomach and its associated organs produce the most serotonin in the body. His line of research shows direct physical evidence for the impact of intestinal disorders and mental health.

So my working hypothesis is that I have some sort of problem in my tummy and fixing that problem will probably help set the stage for improved cognition.

I have looked in the standard literature and everyone is hemming and hawing about the impact of the G.I. system and autism. There is no blue ribbon panel that vets anything more than simple platitudes about the fact that we need more research and that there are many case studies and small-scale studies that seem to indicate a certain pattern of involvement between the G.I. system and autism. See this link.

So, you are left looking at alternative medicine where people are definitely looking at "leaky gut" syndrome. You are left with waiting for the blue ribbon panels and the big studies to give you conclusive advice or, you feel like you are engaging in a series of experiments.

I do feel that since I have lowered my gluten and casein intake than I do feel a lot better. My stomach is quiet. I have a lot less gas. And overall I do feel better. We shall see what happens as I clean up my G.I. system and how that affects things like vision therapy, auditory function, motor skills, and cognition.

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