I’m sure by now you have heard a lot about the gut microbiome and its role in health and disease. But have you ever wondered why it is so important and what exactly is its role?

Unfortunately, I can’t answer all those questions as research into the gut microbiome is relatively new and there is still so much we don’t know about it. However, here is a basic introduction to the wonderful world of your microbiome. If you have time and really want to delve deeply into the microbiome, then I suggest you read the work of Emeran Mayer.

What is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome is the community of microorganisms that inhabits your gut as well as their combined genetic material. These microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa and are also called the ‘microbiota’ or ‘gut flora’.

The gut microbiome is often referred to as the ‘second brain’ because it is so influential on your body, mind and emotions.

“Your gut has capabilities that surpass all your other organs and even rival your brain. It has its own nervous system, known in scientific literature as the enteric nervous system, or ENS, and often referred to in the media as the “second brain.” This second brain is made up of 50-100 million nerve cells, as many as are contained in your spinal cord.”

Emeran Mayer, The Mind-Gut Connection

Functions of the gut microbiome

The microorganisms in your gut have many functions that are integral to your health and wellbeing. So let’s take a quick look at some of these functions.

  • Chemicals released by your microbiome influence the vagus nerve. This is the main nerve that runs between your brain and abdomen. In other words – it is very important!
  • Your microbiome produces many compounds vital to your health. These include:
    • Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is necessary for higher brain functions such as thinking and learning as well as for the development of new neural connections
    • Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) which helps you cope with stress and anxiety
    • Serotonin which, in addition to being central to your happiness and wellbeing, also plays a role in cognition, learning and memory
    • Glutamate which is another compound vital for cognition, memory and learning.
    • Vitamin B12 which has numerous roles in keeping your nerve and blood cells healthy.
  • Your microbiome plays a central role in helping to control your blood sugar levels as well as the hormones that control your appetite.
  • Your gut microbes are the “gate keepers” to the tight junctions located between your intestinal cells. It is these tiny microorganisms that play a central role in increased gut permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation.
  • Your gut microbes process and detoxify dangerous chemicals that you may have ingested with your food and also constantly interact with millions of immune cells lining your gut, protecting you from infections and regulating inflammation.

The immune cells residing in your gut make up the largest component of your body’s immune system; in other words, there are more immune cells living in the wall of your gut than circulating in the blood or residing in your bone marrow.

Emeran Mayer, The Mind-Gut Connection
  • Your gut microbes digest and ferment compounds that your digestive system can’t handle itself. They break these compounds down into smaller molecules so that they can be absorbed into the blood stream. One such compound that they ferment is polyphenols which are highly anti-inflammatory. Luckily they are found in delicious things such as coffee, red wine and dark chocolate.
  • Your gut bacteria are also great ‘regulators’, regulating:
    • the absorption of nutrients
    • your metabolism
    • intestinal function.

Listed above are only a few examples of how the microorganisms inhabiting our gut keep us healthy and well. What we need to remember is that if we want our microbiome to look after us, we need to look after it….a topic for another blog!

“It’s okay to ask what your microbiome can do for you, but much better to ask what you can do for your microbiome.”

Prescott & Logan, The Secret Life of Your Microbiome

Author: Ruth Hull. Ruth is a homoeopath and integrative health consultant with a special interest in working with people struggling with chronic fatigue, burnout or insomnia. She is author of Anatomy, Physiology & Pathology for Therapists and Healthcare Professionals as well as three other health-related textbooks. She is based in Perth, Australia, runs the online educational organisation, The Health Lounge, and also consults online: http://www.ruthhull.com/

Reference:

Hull, R. Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology for Therapists and Healthcare Professionals. Lotus Publishing: Chichester

I know so many people who are exhausted.  Completely and utterly exhausted.  My friends, my patients, my work colleagues, often myself.  Fatigue, exhaustion, burnout – it seems to be the chronic disease of our time and I find it quite depressing thinking about it and its impact on our ability to not only work, produce and succeed in life but also to enjoy life, enjoy our families and enjoy ourselves.  So my next few blogs are going to be written especially for those of you who are struggling with fatigue.  I’m hoping to give you some tools you can use to explore what is going on with your health and what you can do about it. 

The first step in ‘fighting fatigue’ begins with finding the underlying cause of the fatigue, finding out why you are so tired. Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said than done.

Is your lifestyle making you tired?

Start by looking at your daily habits. Are you a parent who works a full day in the office, comes home to cook and clean, put your kids to bed and then…sit down at your computer to do a few more hours work…often until after midnight? If yes, then there is your reason for being so tired.

To be honest, how on earth can anyone live like this and not be tired? If you think you can survive on 3-4 hours sleep then read my blog, One Good Reason to Sleep, and hopefully you will start making sleep a priority.

Similarly, do you have a coffee for breakfast, skip lunch, have a chocolate or some chips late afternoon and then usually pasta for dinner? If yes, then of course you will be tired!

Is an underlying health condition causing your fatigue?

If you can’t find the cause of your fatigue in your lifestyle, then you need to start looking at common health conditions that cause fatigue. Visit your doctor for a full check-up and also ask him/her to run a few tests to investigate the following common conditions that are all associated with fatigue:

  • Anaemia – low iron levels are common in growing children, menstruating or pregnant women and vegetarians and they cause fatigue, decreased immunity, headaches and dizziness. 
  • Hypothyroidism – this is a major cause of fatigue, especially if that fatigue is accompanied by weight gain, dry skin and hair, constipation and depression.
  • Infection – I feel I am opening a can of worms when I mention this topic. There are so many pathogens that can cause chronic fatigue as a consequence but the most common are Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii (Lyme Disease), Epstein Barr Virus, Cytomegalovirus and chronic lung or gut infections.  Your doctor will be able to help you investigate these.
  • Low vitamin B levels – the B-vitamins are responsible for maintaining your nervous system, mental health and energy metabolism.  I like to call them the ‘stress vitamins’ because they are quickly used up by your body in times of stress.  If you are going through a stressful time or have experienced a great deal of stress in your life, then ask your doctor to check your vitamin-B levels.
  • Low vitamin D levels – although not really an ‘energy’ related nutrient, low levels of vitamin D negatively affect the absorption of many minerals and result in muscular weakness and bone pain as well as depression.  If you are struggling with ongoing fatigue accompanied by a lot of aches and pains or muscular weakness, then have your vitamin D levels tested.  This is especially important if you do not get enough sunshine. For example, if you work night shifts, live in a highly polluted city or spend far too many hours in the office.

What else can be making you so tired?

If your doctor has ruled out any health conditions that may be making you tired, yet you are still struggling with chronic fatigue, then you need to ‘throw the net wider’ and start looking at other causes of fatigue.  These include:

  • Medications – unfortunately lethargy and fatigue are a common side effect of many medications.    Medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, reflux/heartburn, antibiotics, antihistamines, antidepressants and those used to treat anxiety and insomnia are all known to have fatigue as a side effect (Neel, 2012).  Never take yourself off a prescribed medication as this can be dangerous, but instead talk to your doctor who may be able to adjust your dosage or prescribe an alternative to what you are taking.
  • Chronic inflammation, dysbiosis or an unhealthy microbiome, leaky gut and food intolerances are all associated with chronic fatigue and I will discuss these more in detail in later blogs.
  • Menstrual problems – many women struggle with painful, heavy or too frequent periods and long term these problems can be utterly exhausting and even debilitating.  Unfortunately, the more exhausted you become, the more irregular and difficult your cycle will be so it is very important that you focus on good nutrition and a healthy routine in order to keep your menstrual cycle as balanced as possible.
  • Menopause – chronic fatigue is also common in menopausal women whose sleep often becomes disrupted by hot flushes or night sweats. For hints and tips on how to survive menopause, read my blog, Managing Menopause Naturally.

If you eliminate all of the above as possible causes and are still exhausted, then you need to start exploring the deeper reasons for your fatigue – often these are more than simply pathophysiological. If you need some help and guidance then please book a consultation with me.


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Author: Dr Ruth Hull. Ruth is a homoeopathic doctor and integrative health consultant with a special interest in working with people struggling with chronic fatigue, burnout or insomnia. She is author of Anatomy, Physiology & Pathology for Therapists and Healthcare Professionals as well as three other health-related textbooks. She is based in Perth, Australia, runs the online educational organisation, The Health Lounge, and also consults online: http://www.ruthhull.com/


Reference:

Hull, R. Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology for Therapists and Healthcare Professionals. Lotus Publishing: Chichester

Mortimore, D. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd: London

Neel, A. (2012). 9 Types of Medications That Can Lead to Chronic Fatigue, AARP. Online. Accessed 17 November 2020. Available: https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-06-2012/medications-that-cause-chronic-fatigue.html

DISCLAIMER: You should not rely on this information as a substitute or replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your health and before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet you should always consult your general medical practitioner or other health professional. The use of any information provided by Ruth Hull and/or The Health Lounge is at your sole risk and no assurance can be given that the information provided will always include the most recent findings or developments. All events and information are provided according to the laws of Western Australia.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was dancing to the Pixies and shouting out the words “where is my mind”, yet somehow, somewhere, in the last few decades I seem to have lost not quite my mind, but my memory.  Is this just part of the natural process of having children, ageing, working too hard and a bit too much stress?

Our brains have an amazing ability to continually form new neural pathways.  This is known as “neuroplasticity” and for it to take place our brains need to be ‘healthy’.  In other words, we need to look after them…..rest them, feed them and exercise them.  Just as we try to look after our bodies, so we should look after our brains.

Meditation and breathing techniques are well-known for improving memory and the yogic meditation Kirtan Kriya is now recommended by the Alzheimers Research and Prevention Foundation .  But there are also other ways to “rest” your brain and improve your sleep – simply find something that you enjoy doing that takes you away from the daily grind of your life: walking in nature, playing outdoors with your kids, doing a puzzle, painting – something in which you can switch your mind off and lose yourself.

Feeding our brains is essential to keeping them healthy.  Rather than focusing on what you should cut out of your diet, focus on what you need to include.  With every meal try to eat some “brainfood” – add seeds, nuts, oily fish, avocados, olive oil or coconut oil to your meal to ensure you get a good dose of essential fatty acids and vitamin E.  Your vitamin B- group is also essential for the nervous system and is easily destroyed by stress and alcohol. A B-complex supplement is often a good idea when you are under a great deal of stress or if you are vegan as some of the B-vitamins are only found in animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.  There are also many herbs and aromatherapy oils that can help improve your memory, your sleep and your ability to cope with stress.

If you are like me and you shudder at the word “exercise”, then I apologise for the following statement: regular exercise is vital not only  for the health of your body, but also for the health of your brain. Cardiovascular exercise ensures there is adequate blood-flow to the brain, improves your sleep and helps you de-stress.  Regular mental exercises, on the other hand, ensure neuro-plasticity.  As the saying goes, “use it or lose it”.  Start doing a crossword or brainteaser everyday or learn something new and challenging such as a musical instrument or perhaps even a new language!

Just to end, I found the image for this blog from Tech & Facts which has some great facts about your brain (such as it is 60% fat….so eat your fats! ). Take a look at it.


Author: Dr Ruth Hull (Homoeopathic Doctor)

Ruth is an integrative health consultant, four-times published author and homoeopath.

www.ruthhull.com


Your internal environment is regulated by hormones and even the slightest change to hormone levels can have a large and lasting impact on your body.

Cortisol, The Hormone of Stress

One hormone, in particular, has a significant effect on your day-to-day life, affecting your ability to cope with stress, your energy levels, your weight, and even your reproductive and sexual health.

This hormone is cortisol and it is primarily released in times of stress via the activation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.

Circadian Rhythms

Cortisol has many functions in the body and is the hormone that helps you wake up in the morning, gives you energy to exercise and helps you cope with stress.

It is released in a cyclical (circadian) rhythm, peaking in the mornings at approximately 8am and then waning in the afternoons, between 3-4pm. 

This rhythm enables you to get up and function in the mornings and then relax and ‘switch off’ at the end of the day.

Interrupted Sleep, Insomnia, Fatigue

If, however, cortisol is constantly being released into your bloodstream due to ongoing stress, then this natural rhythm and hence your sleeping rhythms become displaced. 

High levels of cortisol circulating in your blood stream in the middle of the night means you will be wide awake in the middle of the night.  When these levels crash early in the morning you will too.

Blood Glucose Levels, Insulin Resistance, Inability to Lose Weight, Exhaustion

Another of cortisol’s functions is to increase the level of glucose in your blood stream.

However, constantly high levels of glucose in your blood stream lead to insulin resistance and the effects of insulin resistance include fatigue, increased appetite, abdominal weight gain, and eventually Type II Diabetes Mellitus.

Poor Immunity, Frequent Infections & Poor Healing

High levels of cortisol also suppress your immune system resulting in frequent infections and poor healing.

Gut Health, Woman’s Health and Pregnancy

In addition, excess cortisol has a negative effect on both your digestive and reproductive systems leading to digestive disorders, PMT and difficulties in conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy.

What is Stress Doing to You?

So if you find you can’t sleep at night, can’t lose weight, are constantly sick or struggle with digestive or menstrual/reproductive problems then perhaps it is time to stop for a minute and take a closer look at your stress levels and how you are coping with them.

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Author: Dr Ruth Hull (Homoeopathic Doctor)

Ruth is an integrative health consultant, four-times published author and homoeopath.

www.ruthhull.com


REFERENCES
Jain, J.  2005.  Chapter 31, Animal Hormones, Fundamentals of Biochemistry (online). Available at: http://www.cuchd.in/e-library/resource_library/University%20Institutes%20of%20Sciences/Fundamentals%20of%20Biochemistry/Chap-31.pdf (Accessed 26 May 2016).