Gut Check: Do You Know What’s in Yours? Body & Brain Part 4

October 11, 2015 ~ Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.53.54 PMDeath begins in the colon.” – Most agree that statement comes from a Russian scientist, Élie Metchnikoff, who won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1908. If nothing else, it highlights (in a macabre fashion I admit) the importance of the gut, or second brain, which is dependent on microbiota.

While most of the content herein is arguably outside the realm of my typical posts – when possible I try to respond to inbound requests.  Specifically, the genesis of this series is because people have noted in various passing references the gut, its microbiota and its role related to health, I’ve been asked to expand on that topic.

What’s In It For You?

gut_checkBefore I try to share anything – let’s be clear I am not qualified to give medical advice (in fact there are days I question my ability to give advice on business matters). However, I have read extensively and (like most successful business people) I have a pretty good BS detector so with those credentials in mind here is what you will find in this post:

  • Sources from all four posts
  • Flag areas that refer to microbiota and health issues, etc.
  • Carve out issues related to children (always a priority with me)
  • Bonus resources! Highlight a few more esoteric sources for you.

And now – a bit of editorial comment: If there was any indication the microbiome world needs a better press agent. Think about this: Everybody has heard of the Human Genome Project. But who amongst us have even heard of the “Human Microbiome Project?” Turns out that project is also sponsored by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) – apparently, there are some smart people who think this is a mission critical area.  If you visit the HMP’s website and look at the Overview webpage you will see it “was established with the mission of generating research resources enabling comprehensive characterization of the human microbiota and analysis of their role in human health and disease.”

With all that said, in order to paint a picture for the layman (including me) I ask you to think of this analogy: the microbiotas of the second brain are the neurons of the (first) brain (Neuroscientists and endocrinologists around the world are cringing.)

1) The Best Second Brain Sources (and Honorable Mention)

Clearly, the two at the head of the pack are Michael Gershon, M.D., and David Perlmutter, M.D. You can find more descriptors  about Perlmutter in “Did You Know You Had Two Brains?” and about Gershon in “Is Your Gut the Most Important Part of Your Brain?”

A few other books that I think would be useful and that I have used to various degrees:

2) Microbiota Affecting Your Health

  • Just to start in a slightly prophylactic context, here is what Perlmutter sees as highlights of “Boosting Your Brain by Boosting Your Gut”
    • Choose foods rich in probiotics
    • Go low-carb, embrace high-quality fat
    • Enjoy wine, tea, coffee and chocolate
    • Choose foods rich in prebiotics
    • Drink filtered water
    • Fast every season
  • For those of you “investing” a lot in your brain: from Perlmutter’s book “Grain Brain” – two issues are the cornerstone of brain degeneration
    • Chronic inflammation
    • Free radicals (naturally produced chemicals that cause the body to “rust”)
  • I can’t resist the temptation to mention one of the exciting areas related to several metabolic and inflammatory conditions includes the transference of human gut microbiota. What is that you ask? It is more graphically described as fecal microbiota transplantation. And you thought you had the only crappy job. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Here are some additional contexts for thinking about the gut/microbiota and health. I’ve extracted them from the named source and categorized to a small degree. I’ve only included a few for illustration.


Physiology: There is ample (and growing) evidence of the role of microbiota in areas such as immune systems detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter genesis and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, satiety and metabolism including carbohydrates and fat.

Behavior: You can alter behavior by exchanging (mice) gut microbiota.  Scientists transplanted microbes from a timid group of mice into the guts of risk-taking mice and vice versa. The results saw the shy mice became outgoing, the brazen mice became apprehensive.

Therapeutics: Researchers are exploring the treatment of anxiety, depression and autism through the gut. They believe drug delivery is easier to target in the gut than the brain.


“Your gut has 70 – 80% of your body’s immune system.”

Microbes help maintain immune system balance. When it is severely out of balance you get responses such as anaphylactic shock. (We’ve discussed earlier the impact of chronic inflammation and performance.)

  • Your gut has 70 – 80% of your body’s immune system.
  • What helps the brain shape microbial composition? The gut and immune functions
  • Dietary fiber is broken into digestible short chain fatty acids by the gut.
  • The gut even governs the normal functions of your immune system.


Gut microbes make active components such as neurotransmitters and metabolites that act on the brain. (We’ve discussed earlier the role of emotions in decision-making and communication.)

  • 95 percent of the body’s serotonin (directly relates to feeling happy) is found in the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)
  • About 50 percent of the dopamine (works in concert with serotonin) originates in the ENS.
  • Vitamin production occurs in the ENS.

Specific Conditions

  • Malfunctions of microbiota have been shown to lead to allergies, asthma, ADHD, cancer, diabetes or neurodegenerative conditions as well as autoimmune maladies.
  • Certain bacteria are found in people with depression so Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) could be used to treat depression.
  • Inflammatory diseases related to microbiota include dementia, depression, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and toxic side effects of prescription drugs.
  • Gut bacteria can produce brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) and glutamate.
    • Perlmutter says decreased levels of BDNF are found in “neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s’, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorders.”
    • GABA keeps the nervous system in a more stable state.

3) Gut Issues Related to Children

Author’s Note: I have a very deep (personal) interest in the lives of children with special needs.

I noticed a study conducted by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania that said stress to a mother during her first trimester of pregnancy changes her microbiome. It said “those changes are passed on to newborns during birth and are associated with differences in their gut microbiome as well as their brain development.” And that will have a lifetime effect on a child’s health and wellbeing.

Autism Speaks, one of the leading advocacy programs, says “growing evidence links a dysfunction in this GABA (Gamma-amino butyric acid) system to aspects of autism.” I have also seen references to deficiencies in GABA, the brain’s top inhibitory neurotransmitter, causing ADHD.

Taking this one step further, a New York Times Magazine article in June 2015 titled “Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?” quotes Sarkis Mazmanian, Ph.D., a microbiologist with the California Institute of Technology as saying, “The larger concept is, and this is pure speculation: Is a disease like autism really a disease of the brain or maybe a disease of the gut or some other aspect of physiology?”

In 2012, a collaboration of researchers from Autism Centers at the University of Missouri – Columbia, Johns Hopkins University and Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati published an article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that linked GI problems and behavioral problems in children with autism. It was the first study of its kind to be published, and as an article in The Atlantic points out, they found “a common cause of autistic children acting out is simply because they’re constipated.”

Simply put by me – do we know what we are feeding our children and ourselves? I’m not recommending you go Paleo, or Feingold, or Vegan, or Juice Cleanse or whatever else is out there. I’m just saying we should all be conscious of things like Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Red #40, Propyl Gallate, Yellow #5 and Sodium Benzoate. And while Bromate may sound like a new catch phrase from a Rom-Com movie, Potassium Bromate “has been banned by every other industrialized country other than the U.S. and Japan.” (BTW – it’s an additive in breads you probably eat.)

So please – use your first brain to protect your second brain.

4) Bonus Resources!

For anyone who wants to still dive deeper – here are some resources that have been useful for me.

“By controlling the environment of the stomach, we can control what happens in the brain.” ~ Kirsten Tillisch

We have covered a lot in this series. And there is still more to uncover. I am not sure I’ve identified any magic bullet (or magic arrow) but I hope that so far in this series I have been able to point you to the target area.

About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.