Toxins and Gut Microbes leading to Brain and Mental Health Issues.
This is a recap from a lecture by William Shaw, PhD called The Role Of Toxic Chemicals in Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders that I attended on Day 1 of the Integrative Medicine For Mental Health Conference 2019 in San Diego. Dr. Shaw is the author of the book Biological Treatments of Autism and PDD and a the founder of The Great Plains Laboratory.
I order some of their tests like the Organic Acid Test and also I had a fairly good knowledge of the components of his approach, but it was great to hear from the most advanced clinical expert in Organic Acid Testing. They recently developed something called GLP-Tox which is a urine test that looks at toxin exposures such as pesticides and also a test called Myco-tox which looks at mycotoxin/mold exposure. I have used it to confirm mold toxicity in several of my patients.
Dr. Shaw pointed out the high incidence in depression and suicidality in epidemiological studies in humans with history of pesticide exposure. Pretty shocking. Then he discussed the Organic Acid Test specifically. He a journal article from the International Journal of Environmental research where agricultural workers in a rural village of NW Mexico with some genetic predisposition/genetic risk for lower detoxification; that 25% met the criteria for diagnosis of major depression with suicidal features. Take home message pesticide exposure that has not cleared can lead to mental health issues from mild to severe.
He then mentioned that acute cholinesterase inhibitors exposure (like Roundup/Glyphosate) lead to unprovoked aggressive behavior in 4 subjects with no previous history of violent behavior, etc according to a 1992 study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatriy Clin. Neurosurgey.
This stuff is sprayed on our lawns and shows up in our food source as well.
Dr. Shaw pointed out a few things that really were important related to the Gut-Brain Axis.
First from a big picture that the Gut and Brain are largely connected by the Vagus Nerve that runs from the brain stem and travels through the peripheral nerve system , spine, lungs,
heart and the digestive tract.
Vagus Nerve Brain-Gut
I spoke with Dr. Debbie Miller a lot on this one of my recent podcasts.
The vagus nerve is regulator of the parasympathetic (calming, restorative, regenerative) part of our nervous system and sympathetic (flight and flight). Some theorists also propose it regulates sociability, eye contact, and ability to connect with others. If it is under-toned then we see stress dis-regulation.
At any rate Dr. Shaw spoke about two 90% things. First, 90% of the brain neurotransmitters are manufactured in the gut such as serotonin, gaba, and dopamine. And 90% of the communication between the brain and gut via the vagus nerve is from something called afferent pathways. Meaning the gut shoots signals up to the brain. So we see how the interrelationship between the gut and brain and how there is so much influence that gut byproducts have on brain function. When we think of insomnia, anxiety, ocd, depression, add, adhd, mental, fatigue, anorexia, then we must always look at the gut.
The organic acid test (which is a urine test) tells us if there are excessive microbe metabolites in the gut and if this may be contributing to gut problems also to mental health problems. In my practice I will use it often in really complex gut and mental health cases where the gut problems have gone beyond the gut. One such metabolite shown on the test is produced by clostridium species. Clostridia is a mostly normal inhabitants of the digestive tract that is rod-shaped, mostly gram positive, mostly anaerobic, from the phylum firmicutes. Certain metabolites are produced by clostridium species like P-cresol, 4-Hydroxyphenylacetic, and 3-(3-hydroxyphenyl)-3-hydroxypropionic acid( HPHPA).
The HPHPA production is highly important because it along with 4-cresol inhibit something called Dopamine Beta-Hydroxylase. This enzyme converts dopamine into Norepinephrine and epinephrine. We can see on the OAT test when metabolites of Dopamine (HVA) are going high but there is little production of Norepinephrine conversion (VMA). This is called a high HVA/VMA ratio. This is a major problem. People feel anxious and fatigued, or will have symptoms of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia (POTS). I see this come back the OAT tests we run and this is very true in my experience. There is something called dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH) deficiency and there is even a drug that has been developed for it called droxidopa.
This diagram points out how these bugs plug up dopamine beta-hydroxylase leading to high dopamine but low norepinephrine and epinephrine. There are nutrients like copper and vitamin C that help this scenario as well as clearing some of these microbes out of the gut.
It is really common in medicine to start looking at mitochondrial dysfunction as the root of all chronic disease, and Dr. Shaw talked about one marker on the OAT test that points to dysfunctional mitochondria and that is the urine metabolite succinate. If it comes back elevated on the OAT test it shows issues with the Electron Transport Chain (complex 2) and energy production in the Krebs Cycle. If succinate is elevated it means that there is a problem with the succinic dehydrogenase enzyme (SDH) and this is a key enzyme in the electron transport chain phase II and also in the Krebs Cycle.
He then finished discussing cases of phthalate concentration overload in Autism Spectrum Disordered (ASD) children that were cited in the CHARGE study. Again stating an association of phthalates exposure levels which are from plastics being associated with ASD. I am not a huge fan of epidemiologic data because it lofts suspicion but doesn't get a data, and no body would ever design a study to give high levels of phthalates to humans and see if it causes ASD. Regardless he presents some compelling cases from his practice where he saw the correlation between clearing phthalates and reduced ASD features.
And then concluded to show many different problems with glyphosate exposure in our food chain. Including its use as a drying/desiccant in wheat, barley, rice, sugar cane, sugar beets, tobacco, canola, cotton, beans, peas, and sweet potatoes.He pointed out that GMO foods are modified to tolerate glyphosate as a crop insecticide including corn, soy, cotton, canola, alfala, an soon...wheat.His lab also offers a test for glyphosate levels in the urine.
Fun stuff about a toxic world! The name of the game in a toxin world is supporting your body in dealing with it through healthy function of the paths of detoxification like the liver, gut, skin, kidneys, and lungs. And, doing our best to avoid these toxins all together. More soon.