The gut-brain-heart connection
We have seen how the health of the microbiome is essential for digestion, absorption and immunity. Of great importance also is how the health of our good bacteria works to help us handle stress. Because stress can affect our heart directly, I would like to call it the ‘gut-brain-heart connection’. Here we will look at how this universe of bacteria living in our gut can affect how neurotransmitters are manufactured in the body. We will also look at how we can improve this connection using herbs, like the ones in the ‘Healthy Hearts Club’ products.
The microbiome and GABA
According to Dr. Jockers, our gut microbiome plays an important role in the production of the inhibitory and brain relaxing neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid): “There is a growing body of research linking the gut microbiome to neurological health. Research has shown that breakdown of the intestinal lining along with low levels of good microbial inhabitants such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are linked with lower GABA levels, increased brain excitability and neurological inflammation. These microbes are essential for B 6 absorption and activation, which is the critical cofactor in the conversion from the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA. Without adequate activated B 6, we end up with glutamate excitotoxicity and increased risk of anxiety, seizures, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s.”
According to his research, the way this chained-conversion process happens is as follows:
The amino acid L-glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, is first converted to glutamic acid or glutamate. Glutamate is then converted to GABA by means of the activated form of vitamin B 6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate, or P5P). It is the good bacteria that activate B 6.
Additionally, other amino acids and minerals help in the GABA conversion process. The amino acid taurine increases the communication and productivity of P5P and promotes the production of GABA. There are studies that have shown that a deficiency of taurine can result in anxiety. Zinc also enhances the release of GABA by working to help activate P5P. Both B 6 and zinc are also essential to the production and utilization of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and histamine. In addition, magnesium is important for binding and activating GABA receptors. Without adequate magnesium, we are unable to effectively activate GABA receptors and utilize GABA effectively. Magnesium deficiency is extremely common with over 80% of women and 70% of men suffering with this and thus supplementation for most will dramatically impact GABA activity.
GABA also converts serotonin into N-Acetylserotonin which is then turned into the sleep hormone melatonin, which also plays a huge role in the body’s immune function.
Because of the relaxing effects of GABA, it makes sense, in my opinion, to improve our gut-brain connection for better heart health, specially as there are many factors that compromise our GABA production.
Factors that lower GABA
According to Dr. Jockers, there are many factors that lower GABA production in the body. Among some of the most significant we can find:
Stress: “Chronic stress will increase the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain and body. This also shunts the body into producing more excitatory glutamate and reduces GABA production. Too much glutamate in the brain causes over-excitation of the brain cells. In addition, the increase in stress hormones ramps up cellular activity and causes excessive production of free radicals which damage brain cells and further reduce normal GABA production. Overtime, when an individual is in a long-term, highly stressful condition, they rewire their brain cells and have a functional deficit in GABA production.”
Lack of sleep: “Lack of quality sleep is a chronic stressor on the body and increases stress hormone production…several poor nights of sleep in a row can lead to… a deficit in GABA production.”
Poor blood sugar control: It is not only a stressor for the heart as we have seen, but it is also according to Dr. Jockers “a significant stressor in the brain and disrupts the Blood Brain Barrier, which is designed to protect the brain from oxidative stress, infectious microbes, toxic debris and chronic inflammation. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, causes a partial starvation of the brain tissue, which increases stress hormones and opens up the BBB for more nutrients to cross over. This also allows more toxins and free radicals to effect brain tissue causing elevated stress hormones and glutamate release. Additionally, high blood sugar causes insulin resistance in the brain and a functional starvation where there is enough glucose but we cannot get it into the brain to be used. In this case, it leads to opening the BBB and excessive oxidative damage to the brain with elevated stress hormones and glutamate release.” (1)
Making enough GABA
Dr. Jockers recommends several ways to improve the production of GABA. First of all, he recommends to improve the Microbiome by consuming fermented foods, anti-microbial and carminative herbs such as garlic, onions, cayenne, oregano, basil, thyme, peppermint, ginger, etc. to help improve the overall constitution of the gut microbes.
He explains that carminative herbs can act as a bowel cleanser in different ways:
By stimulating bile flow and thereby improving fat digestion: Compounds within the oils are broken down which promote the movement of bile substances such as bile salts to move from the liver, into the bile duct, and then into the intestines. What material is not excreted as feces will be recycled.
By reducing surface tension within the intestines: Oxygenated compounds in the herbs, like terpenes, increase in activity and small water bubbles are combined to form larger water droplets. Naturally, this also decreases abdominal pain.
Exhibiting an anti-foaming action: Compounds in these herbs lower the content of CO 2 bubbles created by gut bacteria by binding smaller bubbles together into larger bubbles. These gas pockets are then expelled more readily from the intestines reducing gas discomfort.
Therapeutic Uses of Carminatives
According to Dr. Jockers carminative herbs display various chemical profiles that are used to treat an array of digestive discomfort:
Antimicrobial: Many of the herbs are characterized by antimicrobial properties can heal the gut microflora and destroy harmful bacteria.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: “Clinical studies have shown that oils extracted from these herbs can treat symptoms of IBS. Peppermint oil in particular releases a strong menthol odor which significantly can increase gastric flow and prevent against stagnation associated with constipation.”
Relieves Symptoms of Nausea: Carminative herbs have been shown to treat nausea resulting from both motion and morning sickness. Some of these types of herbs are anise seed, ginger, cardamom and peppermint.
Reduce Need for Medication: “Extraction methods using a steam distillation process allows some of these carminative herbs to have very strong volatile oils. One study showed that essential oil blends of ginger, peppermint, and cardamom have the potential to treat conditions aromatically. Patients in this study who inhaled the oil blends felt less need to consume medicine prescribed to treat symptoms of nausea following an operation.”
Treat pain from cramping and gas: Spices like cardamom and peppermint can effective numb the stomach and intestinal nerves which lead to pain from cramping and gas.
Diuretic: Sweet fennel is a great source of trace elements and a source for calcium and magnesium essential for overall health and development. This herb functions as a diuretic and is effective and safe in children and pregnant women. (2)
Ginger Enhances Digestion
According to Dr. Jockers, apart from all these benefits, ginger in particular has special digestive properties that are worth taking into account. Ginger is considered a superfood because it has “a unique concentration of nutrients that synergize together to boost potential.”, including “critical fatty acids, anti-oxidant phytonutrients and essential amino acids.” Almost every culture has historically used it for its powerful ability to enhance immunity, improve digestion and reduce inflammation.
Ginger “is 13th on the anti-oxidant list boasting an impressive ORAC score of 28,811. Ginger is composed of several volatile oils that give it it’s characteristic flavor and odor; zingerone, shogaols, & gingerols. These oils are powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic agents. In addition, it inhibits cancer cell formation while firing up our body’s own inborn ability to destroy the cancer cells formerly present.”
In addition, Dr. Jockers asserts that ginger “has classically been used to improve the digestive process. Nine different substances have been found that stimulate serotonin receptors in the gut which provides benefits to the gastrointestinal system. This reduces gut related inflammation and enhances nutrient absorption. Ginger is classified as a carminative (reducing intestinal gas) and an intestinal spasmolytic (soothes intestinal tract) while inducing gut motility. Ginger is known to reduce fever related nausea, motion sickness… Additionally, it helps aid in the production of bile, making it particularly helpful in digesting fats.”
Ginger helps stimulate digestive juices such as hydrochloric acid from the stomach and bile from the liver and gall bladder. This is why it is good to have ginger on or with your largest meals of the day.
Ginger Provides Pain Relief
According to Dr. Jockers “Ginger is also an important part of a de-inflaming, natural pain-relief program. One compound called 6-gingerol has been shown to significantly inhibit the production of a highly reactive nitrogen molecule, nitric oxide, that quickly forms a dangerous free radical peroxynitrite”. Additionally, ginger helps to protect the bodies stores of glutathione (the super anti-oxidant and free radical destroyer). Due to its effect on glutathione and nitric oxide, ginger has been shown to protect the brain and nervous system from degenerative stress. Ginger is also very high in potassium which aids in electrical energy production and detoxification. It is a great source of manganese which protects the lining of the heart blood vessels and urinary tract. Ginger contains silicon which enhances skin, hair, teeth & nails. It helps assimilate calcium and reduces inflammation in the bone tissue aiding the development of strong bones and teeth.”
Dr. Jockers recommends to use ginger on a regular basis in teas, fresh or in detox products that have ginger as part of a liver detoxification, a digestive program and other excellent health benefits. (3)
Similarly, microbiologist and scientist Karina Pokusaeva, Ph D, in her article ‘Probiotics vs antibiotics or prevention vs treatment’ suggests to use garlic as a pre-biotic to ‘promote growth of good bacteria in (y)our gut’ (4)
How our products can help
The products from ‘Healthy Hearts Club’ are a wonderful combination of herbs that work together to help with digestion, detoxification and the immune system. The ‘Gland Extract’ , for example, contains papaya that helps digestion and cayenne. Cayenne has been found to “increase metabolism, peristalsis and digestion while helping with the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats. Cayenne may be beneficial where there is a lack of function in the stomach or the intestines with poor appetite and weak digestion. As a carminative, Cayenne may be beneficial in helping to relieve gas and bloating or cramping of the stomach and bowels.” (5)
It also contains red clover, which is a great blood purifier. The ‘Female Balance Extract’ contains B vitamins which provide nutrition and build the immune system. The ‘Gentleman Extract’ also contains cayenne. The “Ginseng Extract’ contains echinacia to strengthen the immune system, red clover, Oregon grape and burdock root that purify the blood. The ‘Heart and Body Extract’ contains garlic, ginger and cayenne, making it a great product not only for the heart but for digestion as well as we have seen.
In conclusion, our digestive system is the cradle of our immunity. Not only it allows us to obtain nutrients from our food, but it also hosts the microbiome, the workers that protect us from disease.
Thank you for reading.