Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How to stop stress and anxiety wreaking havoc with your gut health

Time to embrace 'gutfulness'

Do you suffer from bloating or irritated bowels when stressed or anxious? If so, you're not alone. Stress and anxiety are known to bring on (or worsen) gut troubles – even if you don't suffer from IBS.

Dr Ashton Harper, Medical Advisor for Bio-Kult, explains why some people experience digestive discomfort when they're stressed or feeling anxious:

"There's evidence that the brain and the gut communicate with each other via numerous systems (neural, hormonal and immunological) and do not function independently. Because of this interconnected relationship it means that if one system is 'disturbed' it will result in the other system being 'disturbed'. In simplest terms – mental stress at work = tummy upset."

How does stress affect our gut?

According to Dr Ashton, feeling stressed and anxious may induce a variety of digestive discomfort. "Alteration in the contractility of the gut may cause cramps or pain (increased contractility) and may influence stool habits – constipation due to reduced GI contractions may cause feelings of bloating," he says.

Additionally, bloating may occur without constipation and you could also experience increased heartburn as a result of your anxious feelings. "Decreased stomach emptying accompanied by increased oesophageal contractions may cause acid reflux," he adds.

Help is at hand

Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce the effects of anxiety and stress on your gut. "There is a direct link between our microbiota and our stress hormone system - alterations in our gut microbiota may lead to a heightened or suppressed hormonal response to stressful situations," says Dr Ashton. "The direct approach would be to identify the 'stress trigger' and try to remove it, or alter its impact, from your daily life, where possible."

For instance, Dr Ashton suggests, you may get stressed by not being prepared for some activity at work like giving a presentation – make sure that you allow plenty of time to adequately prepare and rehearse to prevent or reduce anxiety. "Also you might get stressed by travelling to work in overcrowded tubes – give cycling to work a try. If you feel yourself getting stressed out with a task take a mini-break from the activity by making a hot drink or writing a list of things you would like to do with your weekend before returning to your work." Although he admits that these approaches may not always be applicable to all stressful scenarios.

Interestingly, increasing evidence suggests that gut troubles may also have an impact on anxiety and stress - suggesting the gut-brain axis works both ways. Dr Ashton highlights the importance of looking after gut health more generally, such as consuming a balanced diet and taking probiotics like Bio-Kult. And if you suffer from IBS or allergies, take time and effort to manage your condition - e.g. by eating a low-FODMAP diet and avoiding foods that aggravate stomach issues.

Stress-busting techniques

In a bid to bring some serenity to our lives – and our gut – try these mindfulness (or 'gutfulness') techniques devised by Emma Mills mediation and mindfulness expert working with Senocalm. She says:

"Some people may not realise that our mind and gut are linked. So with our busy, on-the-go lives, emotions we experience throughout the day, like stress, can affect our digestive system. Stress can trigger IBS symptoms; however quick and simple mindfulness and meditation exercises can help to alleviate this."

  • Sit comfortably and take three gentle breaths. As you breathe in through your nose imaging saying, 'things come easily' and as you breathe out through your mouth 'things go easily'. 
  • Sitting with your eyes closed, scan through your body in an objective way, as though you were just having a look. Start at the top of your head, and move down through each part of your body, paying special attention to your middle area. Sense all the intelligent processes that are naturally happening in the body e.g. breathing fresh air, your digestion, your heartbeat. Finish this with two gentle breaths in and out. 
  • Close your eyes, take a few gentle breaths in and out. Imagine the soles of your feet growing strong roots, like a tree and settling deep down in the rich soil of the earth. As the roots grow, you start to feel secure, anchored and nourished by life. Feel yourself as part of life, supported by life in each moment.

Cannabis, peppers and belly health

Our microbiome, a vast universe of beneficial bacteria within our intestines, is at the center of our ability to process nutrition and energy, ensuring proper and dynamic function of our metabolic systems. In the cases of chronic dysfunction, metabolic disorders, inflammation and a variety of maladies occur.

Maintaining homeostasis, the physiological balancing act our bodies perform in relation to internal and external flux, is the overlying function of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its role has been discovered to be crucial in regulating immune function, mood and adaptation to stress. Endocannabinoids, cannabis-like molecules produced within the body, as well as phytocannabinoids like the ones found in cannabis, regulate many systems found within the brain and body. There are two distinct endocannabinoid receptor systems: CB1, found in the brain and central nervous system; and CB2, found in organs, immune-system cells and peripheral parts of the body.

Recently, University of Conneticut researchers illuminated a crucial link between the ECS and gut immune-system function. They discovered that capsaicin, the molecule that makes hot peppers hot, stimulates the TRPV1 receptor in the gut. (The TRPV1 receptor system is responsible for the mediation of inflammation, body temperature and the perception of pain.)

The result of this stimulation is the production of anandamide, dubbed the "bliss molecule," an endocannabinoid that functions similarly to its phytocannabinoid counterparts. Anandamide also controls appetite and energy balance. When it's produced due to TRPV1 stimulation from capsaicin, anandamide subsequently mediates immune-system function, thus providing a crucial homeostatic role.

Why is this important? Homeostasis of the immune system in the gut assures that pathogens are responded to accordingly, while nutrients are tolerated and assimilated. A healthy gut can correspond to proper metabolism, immune-system function and overall well-being. Anandamide also stimulates the CB1 receptor in the brain, and, as researchers found, the "results uncover a major conversation between the immune and nervous system."

In short, the ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis within the gut, "one of the most fundamental properties of the immune system."

Additionally, cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, helps anandamide stick around longer in our bellies. More anandamide translates into greater ECS health, conveying a greater therapeutic effect upon gut-immune health.

Hot pepper starts can be found at nurseries throughout Sonoma County.

Scientists use AHDS patients’ cells to recreate disease and mimic blood-brain barrier

The blood-brain barrier is biology's proverbial double-edged sword.

An impermeable shield of endothelial cells that protects our brains from toxins and other threats that may lurk in circulating blood, the barrier can also exclude therapeutic drugs and, at times, essential biomolecules required for healthy brain development.

A case in point is the rare but severe psychomotor disease Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome (AHDS), a congenital condition that affects only males and starves the developing brain of thyroid hormone, resulting in cognitive impairment and atrophied muscles and motor skills. The condition is not only untreatable, but seems to be peculiar to humans, meaning scientists have been unable to study the disease and seek new treatments by modeling it in an animal like the mouse.

But now, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles have used the cells of AHDS patients to recreate not only the disease, but a mimic of the patient's blood-brain barrier in the laboratory dish using induced pluripotent stem cell technology.

"This is the first demonstration of using a patient's cells to model a blood-brain barrier defect," explains Eric Shusta, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering and a senior author of the new study published today (May 16, 2017) in the journal Cell Stem Cell. "If we had just the (compromised) neural cells available, we wouldn't have been able to identify this key characteristic of AHDS."

The new work not only establishes a laboratory model for Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome, but also hints at therapies that could prevent or reduce the debilitating effects of the disease, says Clive Svendsen, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, a senior author of the new study and an expert on diseases of the central nervous system. The Wisconsin-Cedars-Sinai collaboration also included UW-Madison Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Sean Palecek and Abraham Al-Ahmad, now a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Texas Tech University.

Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome is caused by defects to a single gene that controls the flow of thyroid hormone to the brain. It affects the developing male brain beginning before birth and results in moderate to severe cognitive disability, impaired speech, underdeveloped muscles and involuntary movement, among other symptoms. As patients age, the condition progresses and many become confined to wheelchairs.

The flawed gene, says Shusta, blunts the work of a biomolecule called MCT8, a transporter that shepherds thyroid hormone through the blood-brain barrier. In the earliest stages of development, several studies suggest a fetus obtains significant amounts of thyroid hormones from the mother.

"The blood-brain barrier forms pretty early in gestation, so the thyroid hormone, even from the mother, is probably not getting through the barrier and into the brain, likely leading to developmental deficits," says Shusta, whose group was among the first to develop blood-brain barriers from patient-derived stem cells in the lab dish.

The ability to recapitulate both the affected neural cells and the blood-brain barrier, according to Shusta and Svendsen, provides detailed insight that not only reveals the mechanics of the syndrome, but also raises the possibility of identifying drugs that may help overcome the diminished ability of the hormone to nurture the developing brain.

In addition, several other neurological diseases like Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease may involve dysfunction in the blood-brain barrier, explains Gad Vatine of Cedars-Sinai, the lead author of the report. "The significance of this study expands beyond the limits of AHDS research, to the possibility of stem cell modeling the blood-brain barrier component in many other neurological diseases," Vatine says.

As an example, Leslie Thompson and coworkers at the University of California, Irvine, have used the blood-brain barrier model developed in the Shusta laboratory to study abnormalities in the blood-brain barrier of Huntington's disease patients. That work is published in the May 16 edition of Cell Reports.


Dr. Robert McMullen, an experienced and acclaimed New York City psychiatrist, has a unique take on natural remedies to remediate depression and some other psychiatric problems. He says that individuals suffering from depression can and do cure the disorder naturally - on their own, with help from a professional [a therapist], with specific nutritional supplements, or with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) - an FDA-approved office procedure where magnetic pulses target the prefontal cortex (and other areas) of the brain. Harold Sackeim, PhD [for 20 years he was head of research into ECT and TMS at Columbia] has said that he thinks that TMS enables the brain to cure itself of depression.

The following supports this theory:

#1: The dose of a magnetic field is “homeopathic” - the electrical activity of the brain is altered for only 45 minutes after a treatment.

#2: The benefit of TMS is surprisingly durable — long-lasting.

#3: Subsequent relapses only need a few treatments, suggesting the brain has permanently altered its functioning in a positive direction.

#4: TMS increases BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which is the “growth hormone” of the brain. Among other things, it increases the plasticity (ability to change) of the brain. It appears the brain wants to change in the right direction.

Borne from a passion for exploring sustainable, natural remedies to depression, as opposed to prescription drugs, Dr. McMullen is passionate about sharing his findings with depressed individuals not responding to medication.

Treatment solutions for depression exist that most are not aware of. Natural practices, when done properly, can sometimes even prevent needing a psychiatrist. In brief, some of the “natural” treatments proven to help depression are: vigorous exercise [5 hours per week], normalization of sleep schedule, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), inositol, folic acid or L-methylfolate/5-MTHF, vitamin B12, vitamin D [a steroid hormone we make when in the sun], magnesium, low dose thyroid hormone (T3), and small-dose lithium.

[Even a minuscule dose of lithium can be of benefit over time. There are lower rates of suicide and Alzheimer’s Disease in areas of the United States that have “high” amounts of lithium in the drinking water — less than 1mg/day.]

If an at-home approach doesn’t work, if depression is very severe, if cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) fails, or if there is a risk of suicide, then seeking a psychiatrist becomes necessary. When nutritional and medication trials prove inadequate, TMS should be the next step. “Unlike medication, TMS has virtually no side effects,” said Dr. McMullen. “TMS offers new hope to patients who find traditional treatments for their condition less than adequate. There are alternate routes to achieving life without depression... When depression has not responded enough to several trials of medication, the odds of the next antidepressant bringing the patient completely to a normal mood (euthymia) are less than 5%. You might find a “stronger” antidepressant—e.g., an MAOI-- that works better than previous antidepressants, but it is very unlikely to bring you to a completely normal mood. TMS has about a 50% chance of bringing a patient all the way to euthymia in these patients who have failed on medications—vastly better odds (>10 X) than a 4th medication trial.

The benefit of TMS is usually long lasting, especially if patients should stay on prophylactic medication after TMS. If and when the patient relapses, a few treatments usually achieves euthymia again. It is rare to need another long course of treatment.

Dr. McMullen’s TMS Braincare team is adept in the administration of TMS. We also have two different types of TMS machine, to increase our options.

For those who undergo TMS, it requires 20 to 30 treatments to emerge from depression over a 4 to 6 week period. Sometimes 40 to 50 treatments are necessary. The treatment lasts about a half hour and has virtually no side effects. After a TMS treatment, patients typically resume their normal day-- going to work, school, etc. At least initially, TMS may precipitate a headache because of contraction of the scalp muscles. If this occurs we give ibuprofen or acetaminophen before the treatment.

“Using powerful magnetic pulses, TMS induces small electrical changes in human brain cells, allowing us to treat a surprising number of psychiatric and neurological conditions,” said Dr. McMullen. It is a non-invasive way to have a physical/ electrical effect on the brain. Although TMS is only approved for depression, there are years of good studies showing that TMS also helps OCD, PTSD, chronic pain, Parkinson’s Disease, Tourette’s Syndrome, dystonias, migraines, ADHD, and stroke rehabilitation.

To learn more about TMS and the TMS Braincare team, visit:

Watch Dr. Robert McMullen 18 min video about How can you cure depression naturally or With psychiatrist or with TMS

Watch Dr. Robert McMullen 8 min video about Non medicine treatment depression.

World Hypertension Day: Uncontrolled high blood pressure may lead to stroke, say experts

New Delhi: Ignorance, people say, is bliss. Not so with hypertension though. For, uncontrolled high blood pressure, if left untreated over a prolonged period, can cause a stroke by damaging the blood vessels in the brain, health experts have warned.

What amplifies the problem of hypertension is the fact that it often goes unnoticed as it attacks the body surreptitiously, without showing up symptoms of its own.

Its prevalence in India is widespread. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Hypertension, about one-third of India's urban population and one-fourth of the rural population are hypertensive.

"High blood pressure can cause blood clots to form in the arteries leading to your brain, blocking blood flow and leading to lack of oxygen supply to the brain cells and tissues, potentially causing a stroke," Tapan Ghose, Director, Cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, told IANSHigh blood pressure damages arteries throughout the body, creating conditions where they can burst or clog more easily. Weakened arteries in the brain, resulting from high blood pressure, put people at a much higher risk of stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

There are primarily two types of strokes -- "ischemic stroke" which can happen due to a reduction in blood supply to the brain, and "hemorrhagic stroke" that is due to bleeding in the brain.

"High blood pressure is responsible for almost half the ischemic strokes that are also called brain attacks, akin to a heart attack. It also increases the chances of hemorrhagic strokes," said Gunjan Kapoor, Director, Interventional Cardiology Department, Jaypee Hospital, Noida.

"It is one of the leading causes for stroke that contributes over 50 per cent in blockages (ischemic stroke) and leads to bleeding in the brain," Vipul Gupta, Director, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, added.

But early detection of blood pressure and its management may reduce its complications and risk of death.

"Reduction of only 5 mm mercury systolic blood pressure reduces incidence of stroke by nine per cent and coronary heart disease (CHD) by six per cent," said B.K. Dubey, Director, Cardiologist, Venkateshwar Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi.

The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, such as smoking, lack of physical activity, too much salt in the diet, consumption of alcohol, stress, and genetic family history of high blood pressure.

"Being overweight can also put you at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and Type-2 diabetes, all of which increase your risk of a stroke," said J.D. Mukherji, Senior Director - Neurology, Max Super Speciality Hospital in Saket, New Delhi.

Some symptoms for early detection of high blood pressure include headache, chest discomfort, palpitations, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, nosebleeds and feeling numb or weak.

Hypertension in the majority of patients is a lifestyle disease and requires aggressive lifestyle changes to manage the disease. However, a subset of patients may be having secondary hypertension due to other reasons.

"The best way to control high blood pressure is to diagnose it. Once diagnosed, the doctor may prescribe medicine, drugs, diet and exercise to help keep the blood pressure in control. Making certain lifestyle changes can keep a check on your hypertension. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle, quit smoking and limit alcohol," Anil Kansal, Neurosurgeon, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, suggested.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, cutting down on full-fat milk, cream and cheese, as well as fatty meat and takeaways may also help control hypertension.

"Exercise also plays an imperative role to strengthen your cardiovascular health. It reduces hypertension and other heart-related issues to a great extent, but it should always be done under a certified fitness professional," said Rachit Dua, a Delhi-based fitness coach and nutritionist.