sydney naturopath histamine

Oestrogen & Histamine Intolerance – The Vicious Cycle

The vicious cycle that drives pre-menstrual anxiety, indigestion, headaches & more…

I am meeting more & more women at my private practice in Sydney who have un-diagnosed histamine intolerance. The key to understanding what drives histamine intolerance is to examine its relationship with the hormone oestrogen, and how the two feed each-other in a vicious cycle

The women I meet in my practice have typically done the rounds of conventional testing & treatments with their GP, but haven’t uncovered any significant reason to explain their intense symptoms such as anxiety, congestion, headaches, PMS, pain & indigestion that seem to be much worse right around ovulation and premenstrually

Supplements, herbs & pain medications may be helping to treat their symptoms, but they still don’t feel 100% and have become completely reliant on them to get through their cycle each month

If this sounds like you, histamine intolerance may be the missing link to uncovering the cause of your symptoms

What Is Histamine Intolerance?

Histamine Intolerance occurs when there is a build-up of histamine in the body due to an impaired ability of our body to handle, break-down and metabolise the histamine that we make in the body, and also the histamine that is in particular foods.  When levels of histamine in the body build because we aren’t breaking it down well enough, you may start to experience symptoms of histamine intolerance

A useful analogy for understanding this is the bucket – under optimal conditions our bodies should be able metabolise & break down the histamine we consume in foods and which we make, but if the bucket overflows because we’re not emptying it properly, we can start to experience symptoms of histamine intolerance

It is one of the many food chemical intolerances that many people experience, where their symptoms are all over the place and it seems impossible to figure out which foods they’re reacting to – this is because histamine is in so many foods, so it becomes almost impossible to avoid it completely

The classic symptoms of Histamine Intolerance:

  • GIT – Altered bowel function, abdominal pain, nausea, abdominal cramping, reflux
  • Headaches , Migraines
  • Heavy and/or painful periods
  • Joint pain
  • Tissue swelling
  • Hives, flushing, skin rashes
  • Brain Fog, Anxiety, Depression
  • Respiratory – congestion, runny nose, sneezing, difficulty breathing

What Does Oestrogen Have To Do With It?

The majority of people who develop histamine intolerance are women, and it appears this has to do with the hormone oestrogen

A big clue that you may have histamine intolerance is if you experience symptoms such as headache/migraine, anxiety, GIT issues that are worse right before ovulation & pre-menstrually

This is because oestrogen rises dramatically leading up to ovulation, and oestrogen is higher premenstrually relative to progesterone, which naturally declines (demonstrated in the graph below)

As women reach these parts of their menstrual cycle where oestrogen rises, this naturally drives up histamine levels because the two feed each other.

It is also common for women to suddenly start experiencing these symptoms during peri-menopause & menopause because although oestrogen levels eventually decline, it is the hormone progesterone that begins to decline initially. So relative to progesterone, higher oestrogen levels can drive histamine intolerance

Interestingly, histamine intolerance symptoms are relieved during pregnancy, due to the placenta increasing production of Diamine Oxidase (DAO) enzyme 500-fold. DAO is the enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine

Numerous studies have demonstrated that oestrogen, particularly the form ‘oestradiol’ (the not so great form), can elicit the activation of mast cells – the cells most known for their role in releasing histamine into the bloodstream when activated by the immune system

So it becomes a vicious cycle where oestrogen & histamine reinforce eachother

> Increase in oestrogen levels triggers histamine release

> histamine causes increases oestrogen production

> chronic symptoms continue in a vicious cycle …

As you can see in the picture, below, once histamine is released it has the potential to cause a large number of symptoms due to its effect on vasodilation, neurotransmitter release, mucous secretion, oestrogen production, smooth muscle contraction & gastric acid secretion

The Key To Overcoming Histamine Intolerance – Treating The Gut

The most commonly mentioned ’cause’ of histamine intolerance is a deficiency in diamine-oxidase (DAO), the enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine. Many people seek out DAO supplements as a way to treat histamine intolerance, but this is unfortunately an expensive band-aid approach that doesn’t address the true underlying cause

DAO is produced by the lining of your intestine, which is an obvious sign that damage to the lining of the gut wall is an underlying cause of histamine intolerance. This is an indirect consequence of underlying gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance)

Gut dysbiosis is also responsible for directly increasing histamine levels due to imbalances of gut bacteria being responsible for over-activation of the immune system

To to treat over-activation of the immune system, you must address gut dysbiosis. Another clear link here is that altered histamine receptor expression is seen in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), where dysbiosis is a key underlying driver

A downstream of effect chronic dysbiosis I see in many clients is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), which is very common in people with histamine intolerance. Depending on your symptoms, you may need to rule out & address SIBO if necessary

What To Do If You Think You May Have Histamine Intolerance

  • Track your menstrual cycle – Because histamine rises & falls with oestrogen, track your cycle to see if there is a pattern of symptoms intensifying pre-ovulation & premenstrually
  • Trial a lower histamine diet (see the list below) – Histamine is in most foods to some degree, so it’s more a matter of reducing your total load of histamine containing foods. If you are histamine intolerant, you should notice a level of improvement in your symptoms within 2-3 weeks
  • Rule out underlying conditions – Ensure you rule out other underlying causes of your symptoms such as Coeliacs disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Lactose Intolerance, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Histamine intolerance is ultimately an underlying symptom of a deeper issue, related to the gut
  • Check your medications – antidepressant, antipsychotics, blood pressure medications, antibiotics, diuretics, muscle relaxants & malaria drugs are examples of medications that interfere with adequate DAO enzyme production. Do not stop your medications – discuss with your medical doctor and health-care team

Low-Histamine Diet Guide

A great place to start is to experiment with a low-histamine diet. If you have true histamine intolerance, the relief you experience will be rapid and obvious, even if is just slight

There are a large amount of foods that naturally contain histamine, and there are other foods that directly block the DAO enzyme

High-Histamine Foods To Avoid Include

  • Fruits – citrus, bananas, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, dried fruits (apricots, prunes, dates, figs, raisins)
  • Vegetables – avocados, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, sauerkraut & other fermented vegetables
  • Nuts all nuts & peanuts
  • Dairyall dairy products including fermented dairy such as yoghurt & kefir
  • Dairy Alternatives – coconut yoghurt & other fermented products
  • Protein – cured meats such as bacon, salamin, pepperoni, luncheon meats & hot dogs, shellfish, mackerel, tuna, smoked fish, anchovies, sardines
  • Starches – Soured breads, wheat germ
  • Seasonings & Other Ingredients – Pickles, olives, vinegars, miso, soy sauce & tamari, mayonnaise, artificial preservatives & dyes
  • Drinks & Alcohol – Wine, champagne, beer (alcohol in general), kombucha, energy drinks, black & green tea, yerba mate
  • Chocolate – sorry!

Histamine “Safe” Foods to Stick To On A Short-Term Low-Histamine Diet

  • Fruits – All Fresh fruits except citrus, banana, papaya, pineapple, strawberries
    Vegetables – All fresh vegetables except avocados, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes
  • Dairy Alternatives – coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond mild
  • Protein – Freshly*** cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh), freshly caught fish, eggs
  • Fats – Coconut oil, olive oil
  • Seasonings & Other Ingredients – leafy herbs
  • Drinks & Alcohol – Herbal teas, no green or black tea; no alcohol

*** Freshness is very important in the foods you eat – notice that many of the foods to avoid are aged or fermented

Avoid eating leftover meats & fish, and strictly avoid any canned fish, as they will be higher in histamine. Frozen fish is fine

Take Action Now

Start tracking your menstrual cycle, trial a low-histamine diet & seek the appropriate help to heal underlying gut dysbiosis & intestinal permeability so that histamine intolerance no longer leaves you struggling with unmanageable & constant symptoms

Sydney Naturopath IBS

The Truth About IBS & How To Treat The Root Cause

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (IBS) – I regularly meet clients at my practise in Sydney, and often meet people from all walks of life who have been labelled with IBS at some point in their lives. Many people these days appear to be experiencing some sort of digestive discomfort, and are either diagnosed with IBS or have come to their own conclusion that they ‘experience’ IBS, either occasionally or constantly.

They typically have nagging symptoms which don’t appear to be life-threatening or suggestive of anything considered more serious such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but which are seriously uncomfortable and impacting their quality of life. Some of these symptoms may include:

– Chronic constipation

– Diarrhoea

– Alternating constipation & diarrhoea

– Chronic Bloating

– Abdominal cramping & pain

– Excessive flatulence

– A sense of incomplete bowel evacuation

– Nausea

It’s basically a constellation of symptoms which are an obvious sign that your digestive system is not functioning properly. You feel sluggish, you know your digestion isn’t the best, and you know that there must be something wrong or imbalanced.

Throw in a bunch of food intolerances with no idea what the culprit foods are, and there is clearly something not quite right with your digestive system.

But apparently there is nothing specifically wrong with you. You have general blood tests and other investigations done, and apparently you should be fine. At this point a diagnosis of IBS is usually handed out – when there is nothing conclusive that points to a specific disease that is detectable

It is considered a “diagnosis of exclusion”- a medical term used for when a diagnosis is reached based on simply ruling out other conditions. In the case of IBS, this would include Coeliac Disease, parasites, colorectal cancer, IBD and Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) to name a few.

So IBS is not a ‘disease’ as such, which is why it’s called Irritable Bowel ‘Syndrome’ – a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality or condition. But you don’t have to have all of the symptoms associated with IBS to be diagnosed (similar to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).

This can leave patients that are ‘diagnosed’ or guessing that they have IBS feeling deflated for a number of reasons,  because if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture:

1) The name Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be misleading as it simply indicates an issue with the bowels, but it is much more than just a bowel issue – those with IBS can also experience significant anxiety and/or depression, poor sleeping patterns, joint pain, hormonal imbalance and gastro-paresis

Isolating IBS to simply being a bowel issue is a typical reductionist approach which doesn’t consider the many inter-related body systems that are involved such as the gut-brain axis

Patients may be offered medication to relieve constipation or diarrhoea, or even painkillers. Clearly this is a band-aid approach

2) IBS is considered to have an ‘unclear aetiology,’ i.e. it is not known exactly what causes it. When you’ve been cleared of more specific diseases, being lumped into the category of ‘generally unknown’ can be frustrating and leave you even more stressed about your symptoms

Since IBS is a constellation of symptoms that vary from person to person, it is a situation where each person must be treated individually. There are in fact many possible causes that are all intricately connected, which can be targeted when we take a whole-body and whole-person approach. The conventional medical approach is generally focused on a single cause with a one-drug approach, which IBS does not really fit into

3) Many patients and physicians alike are aware that stress can significantly affect IBS and exacerbate symptoms. Many patients have been left with the impression that it is ‘all in their head’ since there is no obvious organic cause of their IBS, and that they need to just ‘stress less’.

While stress management and nervous system support are an important treatment strategy, there are in-fact underlying physiological mechanisms at play that are related to the symptoms they are experiencing. Stress is an important factor, but it’s not just in your head.

I remember having gut issues and getting the regular eye-roll from physicians, waiters and other people when trying to explain my digestive discomfort and need to avoid particular foods. It’s already an uncomfortable topic to bring up, and even more humiliating and disheartening when you are immediately shut down and made out as if it’s not a big deal.
So what are these possible underlying causes I keep referring to?

  • Dysbiosis

    – a term that translates to ‘altered GIT microflora.’ The trillions of bugs that colonise our gut need to be in a delicate balance, which you will commonly hear as being imbalanced in favour of ‘bad bugs,’ as opposed to ‘good bugs’

  • Low-Grade Inflammation

    -Patients with IBS have increased expression of inflammatory markers in the body, which suggests that low-grade inflammation is present. It is theorised that mild inflammation of the gut mucosa (lining) is what can disrupt neuromuscular function, i.e. GIT Motility

  • Altered GIT Motility

    – i.e. altered bowel habits. We all know the frustration and pain of having alternating bowels that may also be super uncomfortable, unpredictable and leave you having to know where all possible public toilets are in case of an emergency

    Motility means movement – we should experience smooth, wave-like muscular contractions of our bowels that gently move food through our gut, allowing it to be digested and absorbed properly. Being constipated means our gut motility is under-functioning, and experiencing diarrhoea is a sign of more rapid gut motility.

    There are many potential reasons for having poor gut motility – as already mentioned it could be due to dysbiosis and low-grade inflammation, but could also be due to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Gastro-paresis, medication side-effects and hypothyroidism to name a few

  • Visceral hypersensitivity –

    this refers to an “enhanced intestinal perception of pain.” A phenomenon in IBS patients is experienced where pain is experienced due to underlying dysbiosis and low-grade inflammation. You may not necessary bloat or have gas more than others, but when you do experience bloating it may exacerbate pain and discomfort due to underlying inflammation and hypersensitivity

  • HPA Axis Dysfunction –

    a fancy term for describing an imbalance of stress hormones due to prolonged and unmanaged stress, trauma and significant life events. Stress may not only exacerbate your symptoms, but you may find that you have a much lower stress tolerance.Chronically elevated stress hormones impact our digestion by reducing digestive enzyme function, disrupting GIT motility and affecting the balance of our GIT microflora (explained in further detail here)

These are the key underlying factors on a physical level that we must address, and that complementary medicine can help you with

Here are my foundational tips for reducing the uncomfortable symptoms you are experiencing, and begin healing the gut at a root level:

1.Symptom Relief

–  getting to the root cause is important, but relieving symptoms along the way is important too! My favourite tools for improving digestive function and eliminating uncomfortable symptoms are:

– Iberogast: a liquid herbal digestive formula that has stood the test of time in alleviating IBS symptoms in adults & children, that conventional Dr’s even recommend to their patients. It can be found at health food stores, pharmacies, naturopaths or online.

A brilliant tonic for quick symptom relief and when taken 2-3 times per day consistently, reduces low-grade inflammation

When you decide to work with a naturopath & herbalist, a herbal medicine tonic can be compounded to your own unique presentation.

-Digestive Enzymes: a great supplement to take with each meal to reduce bloating and gas. We should be making our own digestive enzymes but may not be due to the underlying factors that drive IBS. Over time with the correct treatment plan, you shouldn’t need them anymore. A good quality practitioner-grade brand is best.

-Chamomile, Lemon Balm & Licorice Tea: are all gentle anti-inflammatory herbal teas that help reduce GIT cramping, gas and abdominal pain

-Low FODMAP Diet:  “FODMAPs” are short-chain carbohydrate containing foods which are incompletely absorbed in the gastro-intestinal tract of IBS patients and lead to being excessively fermented by bacteria, which causes bloating, cramping and gas. They are not ‘bad’ foods either – they are mostly from a range of healthy fruit and vegetables

Removing high FODMAP foods in the short-term will help reduce symptoms while trying to restore any gut dysbiosis and low-grade inflammation. It should not be a long-term diet as many of the FODMAP containing foods are prebiotics, so you are essentially starving your microbiome. Working with a practitioner, you can figure out the best dietary approach for you whilst restoring your gut microbiome with probiotic, prebiotic and anti-inflammatory supplements.

2.Reduce Inflammation

– Focus on Omega-3 rich foods such as wild salmon, sardines, ground flaxseeds, flaseed oil, hemp seeds, hemp seed oil and ground chia seeds. Supplemental EPA/DHA from fish oil or sourced from algae is popular as anti-inflammatory strategy if you find it difficult to eat enough Omega-3 rich foods, especially if you’re on a strictly plant-based diet

Turmeric is an incredible anti-inflammatory herb that has shown a significant reduction of IBS symptoms in clinical trials. It not only provides symptom relief but reduces low-grade inflammation in the gut, and is also fantastic for mood support

Eat plentiful fruit and vegetables!

3.Restore Your GIT Microbiome

Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum (PHGG): a low cost prebiotic powder that promotes the growth of beneficial bugs in the gut and is a brilliant tool for regulating bowel motions (for both constipation and diarrhoea). This is an important long-term strategy for addressing dysbiosis in the gut so stock-up! Simply add it into water or into smoothies.

Probiotics: these live micro-organisms can be found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir, or in supplemental form. Fermented foods are a great addition to your diet for gut health, whilst supplements have a long history of success in treating IBS.

The efficacy of probiotics is strain-dependent. While many people try different broad-spectrum products with much success and noticeable improvement in their digestion, others notice no benefit or even a worsening of symptoms. This can be a sign of a more significant underlying issue such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), or if you don’t notice any benefit you may need a more specific strain or strains of bacteria. Working with a practitioner can help you get the best out of probiotic therapy

Eliminate Gluten & (Possibly) Dairy– I don’t follow a particular dietary trend or recommend my clients all exclusively eliminate particular foods or food groups, but in the case of chronic and persisting digestive symptoms the majority of clients i see notice a significant reduction of symptoms when eliminating gluten-containing foods their diet. Many clients also notice a significant reduction in symptoms when removing dairy from their diet due to lactose & casein sensitivity.

Note: Calcium is easy to get from plant-foods! Dairy is not all it’s cracked up to be…

Removing foods that drive alot of digestive systems gives the gut a rest and creates an environment for inflammation to resolve. If the idea of removing these foods stresses you out about what you can eat, work with a nutritionist who can help you.

Clinically I have seen the best results using Food Biocompatibility Testing – it takes the guesswork out by removing foods that you are incompatible with, which optimises cellular function and reduces inflammation

4. Stress Management

– As you are well aware, having IBS is already stressful enough, and stress worsens your symptoms. This vicious cycle can be difficult to deal with especially in modern times when we are all so busy and feel like we barely have time to stop and nourish ourselves

Committing to self-care practises and putting yourself first is a crucial part of overcoming chronic gut issues. Whether it’s breath-work practises, yoga, meditation, counselling, seeking help with a practitioner – take the small but necessary steps of making these a priority in your life. It may require some initially uncomfortable changes, but the pay-off is worth it. Trust me! You don’t have to be perfect, but investing in the skill of relating to stress in a healthy way is a game changer for health overall

Magnesium is a superstar mineral that not only helps relax the bowels but is great for supporting the nervous system during times of stress, also helping with improving sleep quality. Magnesium citrate is my preferred form GIT conditions

Hopefully this article has in someway been helpful for you to begin healing the root cause of your IBS and finally getting some symptom relief.
At my naturopathic practise in Sydney I help my clients with extremely thorough and holistic treatment plans, where we have the opportunity to work a bit deeper on their presenting health concerns, on all levels.

For clients who still seem to be struggling despite all of the foundational healing tips provided, further testing is usually necessary to rule out conditions such as SIBO and more severe dysbiosis – a combination of breath-testing (for SIBO) and comprehensive digestive stool analysis are game-changers for anyone with chronic gut symptoms, and can give as valuable insight into what’s really going on within the gut ecosystem.

Yours In Health,
Steven Judge

Sydney Naturopath

Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)
(02) 9211-3811

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Blastocystis Hominis Sydney

The Secret To Treating Blastocystis Hominis: Don’t Treat It.

  • Have you been struggling with chronic digestive issues?
  • Have you completed stool testing and been diagnosed with Blastocystis hominis?
  • Have you been told by your GP or naturopath that you need to take antibiotics or do a comprehensive gut
    detoxification protocol to get rid of Blastocystis?
  • Have you already completed many rounds of antibiotics & gut detoxification protocols and still have Blastocystis?
  • Have you gotten rid of Blastocystis and still feel awful, if not worse?

Stop Trying To ‘Treat’ Blastocystis Hominis

This may be a difficult idea to comprehend if you’ve been convinced that Blastocystis is the root of your chronic digestive symptoms

Logically it makes sense that Blastocystis must be the underlying cause of your digestive issues – you’ve had sluggish digestion and gut symptoms such as cramping, bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort and alternating bowels, you’re unusually fatigued, and have never been the same since travelling overseas & having a bout of gastroenteritis

Or maybe you have an autoimmune condition such as Hashmitos thyroiditis or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), and have finally uncovered Blastocystis, which must be the main culprit

What a relief to find out you have Blastocystis and can now treat it using antibiotics or herbal treatments…

If only it were that simple

The reality is that according to the research we do not know if Blastocystis hominis  is even a parasite, or pathogenic (disease-causing)

There are an estimated 1 billion people worldwide that have Blastocystis hominis, most of whom have no symptoms and are healthy

I meet so many clients at my practise in Sydney who are frustrated at having chronic gut issues, fatigue and brain fog, where all the typical recommendations and supplements they’ve been taking have not helped at all, and in many cases are now feeling worse

If so, this information is even more important for you

After consulting with clients and specialist practitioners in this area over many years, I educate as many people as I can that Blastocystis is most likely not very important

In my experience working with clients there are other underlying drivers of chronic digestive issues that are being overlooked

Before I go on any further, I’d like to highlight one very important point:

There is no known eradication strategy for Blastocystis hominis

Regardless of what any supplement company or practitioner has claimed

If anyone is claiming that you need no further investigation and just need to take a round of antibiotics/herbs and you’ll be fine, find a new physician

If i meet someone in Sydney or via skype and they have uncovered Blastocystis hominis, my approach is to focus on the entire clinical presentation of the individual, and come to ‘diagnostic closure’ by investigating and ruling out other things going on with your gut health.

This is incredibly important to understand

Most people make the mistake of fixating on Blastocystis as the cause of all their health issues, and typically go straight in with heavy antibiotic and herbal treatments, which typically leaves people with even more chronic gut issues that makes complete resolution harder to achieve in the long term. Antibiotics can temporarily relieve symptoms, but typically come back in time (and often worse)

Many practitioners – medical and naturopathic – immediately go in with the ‘kill’ approach, not really understanding the impact this is having on their client’s microbiome (and therefore, their entire well being)

GPs generally don’t know much about it and may prescribe antibiotics which don’t work, whilst negatively impacting the gut microbiome even further

Specialists may treat with extremely heavy antibiotics which typically leave people much worse-off, or just throw their hands up and admit they have no idea what to do about it and to ‘just live with it’

Many well-meaning naturopathic and herbal practitioners immediately treat with very strong herbal antimicrobials and essential oils, without investigating any further into the client’s gut microbiome and overall health picture

Herbal antimicrobial treatments (especially essential oils) can also have collateral damage on the gut microbiome as prescription antibiotics do. The major issue with all of these approaches is people end up much worse than before, regardless of whether or not they got rid of the Blastocystis hominis, due to side effects of antibiotics

GPs typically won’t go down the path of ruling out Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, Chronic Gut Dysbiosis, Fructose intolerance, or Intestinal Hyper-Permeability (‘leaky gut’)..

.It’s crucial to investigate all other potential gut issues

There are many things that could be going on with your gut health that need to be ruled out:

  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) (hallmark symptom is chronic bloating)
  • Dysbiosis (imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria)
  • Post-infective IBS (very common after travelling and having gastro)
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Fructose Intolerance
  • Coeliac Disease
  • Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD)

My Approach

Test – Don’t Guess!

Thorough investigative case-taking by a qualified practitioner  is extremely important

Seeking help with the right practitioner is essential, don’t put yourself through unnecessary stress by trying to figure it out yourself!

  • Ubiome Stool Test & Complete Microbiome Mapping (Nutripath)  are the two stool tests I routinely order to get an accurate assessment of the gut microbiome. These stool tests are DNA-based, using quantitative PCR technology. They are highly accurate & sensitive, and are the preferred testing method over any ‘culture-based’ stool tests
  • Majority of my clients are also tested for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) – the majority of clients I’ve worked with who have Blastocystis ended up having severe cases of SIBO & chronic gut dysbiosis. By identifying the true underlying causes of their symptoms, we were able to treat appropriately without doing any more damage

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath

Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)
(02) 9211-3811
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Sydney Naturopath Anxiety Depression

Training Your Brain For Gut Health – Is The Vagus Nerve The Missing Link In Resolving Chronic Digestive Disorders, Mental Health & Autoimmunity?

If you suffer from

  • Mental health conditions (Anxiety, Depression, Behavioural disorders such as ADHD)
  • Digestive disorders (Chronic Constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
  • Autoimmune Diseases (Hashimotos Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis)

OR a combination of these…

It can be frustrating to feel like you are doing all of the ‘right’ things – you might be following a gluten free + dairy free/paleo/gluten-free/anti-inflammatory diet of sorts, ruled out or are treating IBS/infections/parasites, you’re taking probiotics, prebiotics, l-glutamine, digestive enzymes, bone broth, gut-healing powders and specific gut- nutrients (e.g zinc)…But you are STILL frustratingly suffering from gut symptoms and related conditions, and haven’t noticed a drastic improvement in your mental health and overall well-being.

Or you may feel much better taking these things but once you take them away you are immediately unwell. If this sounds like you, we may need to dive a bit deeper into the role of the gut-brain axis and in particular THE VAGUS NERVE, incorporating specific techniques to get your gut functioning strong and bowel movements happy, which in turn will drastically improve your mental health and help to dampen the inflammatory cascade of autoimmunity.

What Is the Brain-Gut Axis?

It is a pathway of communication that occurs via the vagus nerve and our gut microbiome.

Whilst we know much about the importance of our microbiome, aka our ‘beneficial gut flora,'(check out my blog article on prebiotics + sleep for more info) much less consideration is generally given to the other direction of this axis working ‘brain-down’, which is via the vagus nerve. Dr. Datis Kharrazian, who was awarded Researcher Of The Year in 2017 by the International Association of Functional Neurology, explains that “One of the most neglected things that I think most practitioner’s don’t understand, whether they’re conventional or alternative, is that there’s this brain-to-gut axis,”… and basically that what we may think of traditionally as gut-disorders are in fact neuro-degenerative diseases that start in the gut. The vagus nerve connects the brain with every other organ in the body, allowing the brain and the gut talk to each-other (they have quite an intimate relationship!)

This communication is “bi-directional,” meaning that communcation travels in both directions – the vagus nerve also carries information from the body back to the brain. Why is this so important for our digestion and overall health? Basically, the brain plays a crucial role in gut function as it controls gut motility (the movement of food through the intestines). When gut motility is impaired this means that your food is not moving and being broken down, nor can you make your own digestive enzymes, which will eventually result in fermentation and bacterial or yeast overgrowth.

Just taking digestive enzymes and gut-healing nutrients will not resolve the spectrum of underlying causes unless you address the brain-gut dysfunction – THE BRAIN is what makes us produce digestive enzymes in the first place and directs blood flow to the gut. One of the key things that would highlight an issue with the functioning of your vagus nerve is if you have issues with gut MOTILITY – i.e. if you have constipation, have to drink coffee to have a bowel movement, rely on magnesium or laxatives for bowel movements, if you have chronic & unresolved bloating…

If there is no gut motility or production of digestive enzymes due to dysfunction in the brain, this is what will will cause intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”) and then a range of downstream effects that drive chronic inflammation and an overactive immune system that can develop into an autoimmune condition – when they body starts to attack itself….so we may need to take a step back and approach chronic gut conditions from the brain down! This can not be done with a supplement – sure, they may help relieve symptoms, but it will not ultimately treat the underlying cause. In this case, we must develop plasticity and new neural connections so that:

-> Neurons fire into eachother -> Brain fires to the vagus nerve -> Vagus nerve fires into the gut nervous system -> migrating motor complex functions properly (which means gut motility will be functioning optimally)

Correcting an impairment in the brain-gut axis is so important, as many neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinsons & Alzheimer’s Disease have been linked to alterations in our gut microbiome and gut-brain axis.

One of the most common neuro-degenerative diseases, Parkinsons Disease, is referred to as an “alpha-synucleinopathy” – where a protein called alpha-synuclein builds up in between nerves which then can not communicate, and they begin degenerating off. The build-up of this protein leads to degenration which begins in two places:

1. The gut – people start to get gut degeneration

2. The olfactory bulb – people start losing their sense of smell.

The brain starts to degenerate, and since the majority of the brain’s output is at the pontine area where the vagus nerve lives, there is inevitably failure in the brain-gut axis at some point! Harnessing the vagus nerve should be a key treatment strategy for anyone predisposed or with an early diagnosis of any kind of neuro-degenerative diseases (including dementia). Alas, let’s get down to some of the key tools for firing up your vagus nerve and working from the brain down to ensure we are preventing and properly treating gut, mental health, autoimmune and neuro-degeneration!

GUIDE TO HARNESSING YOUR VAGUS NERVE:Dr. Kharrazian Has 3 Key Recommendations

1. Gargling – Take water, put it into the back of your throat and gargle to the point of tearing up. You must really work it out and gargle aggressively enough so that it makes your eyes tear, since the vagus is right next to an area called the superior salivatory nucleus, which causes you to tear. If this area of the brain isn’t functioning well you may have a hard time gargling, only being able to gargle for 3 or 4 second before having to spit it out. Build it up over time until you can do it for several minutes and you’re tearing consistently. This is how you activate it! Make this a daily routine. Gargling has been utilised in functional neurology for many years, e.g. people with head injuries.

2. Inducing Your Gag Reflex – Buy a box of tongue blades (can purchase online, e.g. through amazon), and use these to push down on the back of your tongue until you gag, which will make your eyes start to tear. Doing this activates the pathway, developing neural connections and getting plasticity going. Be careful not to push it on the back of your throat which could cause injury.

3. Coffee Enemas – NOT for ‘detox’ reasons, this tool is useful due to the caffeine which stimulates gastrointestinal nicotinic cholinergic receptors, which makes the gut move along. The key here is to get enough coffee so that you have to force yourself to SUPPRESS the urge to have a bowel movement – lay on your side and do the enema, and when you have an urge to have a bowel movement hang out there as long as you can, suppressing the urge. This fires the frontopontine vagal enteric axis.

Continually doing this builds endurance and starts to retrain the brain-gut axis. You want to ensure you are consuming a well-rounded, anti-inflammatory diet and taking digestive enzymes as well, as to not neglect the gut-brain pathway, whilst using the right techniques to training the brain-gut pathways. Singing is another fantastic remedy, which activates the vagal muscles in the back of your throat (you’ve got to sing loudly!)

And finally you must focus on utilising a range of lifestyle techniques, incorporating them into your schedule as they suit you, to ensure you are promoting your parasympathetic, “rest & digest” nervous system, to ensure optimal digestion & adequate blood flow to your digestive organs:

It might not seem like a typical ‘prescription,’ but please focus on incorporating these vagus nerve stimulating techniques if you have unresolved gut, autoimmune and mental health conditions (which may be overlapping), to ensure the brain-gut axis is working both ways!

Yours In Health

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath & Nutritionist
(02) 9211-3811
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Sleep Prebiotics Sydney Naturopath

Improve Sleep & Reduce Stress With Prebiotics

Eastern traditions have proclaimed it for centuries – All disease begins in the gut.

Science continues to validate the importance of gut health and the microbiome for a range of conditions – autoimmunity, anxiety & depression, allergies, chronic fatigue, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease….

A recent study has suggested that the answer to correcting poor sleep may lie in ensuring we are consistently ‘feeding’ our beneficial gut flora – another win for the importance of gut health!

Published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, dietary prebiotics were found to improve non-REM sleep (restful & restorative) as well as REM sleep after a stressful event:

“These data are the first to show that a diet rich in prebiotics can modulate the sleep-wake cycle both before and after stress and induce stress-protective effects in diurnal physiology and the gut microbiota”

It’s important not confuse the more commonly known probiotics with Prebiotics:

  • Pro-biotics = ‘beneficial’ live micro-organisms – bacteria, yeast or fungi – found in certain foods & supplements, which are essential for maintaining good health and vitality

  • Pre-biotics = non-digestible fibres that selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria

Probiotics are fantastic for boosting and modulating our immune function & gastrointestinal health, but it is a common misconception that probiotics stimulate the growth of our gut flora and colonise the gut.

Probiotics are transient and do not colonise in the gut. This is why it is important to consistently consume prebiotics as they fuel the growth of “good”bacteria, and hence are a key treatment strategy in treating conditions where chronic gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) needs to be addressed:

  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

  • Autoimmune Diseases

  • Coeliac disease

  • Candida overgrowth

  • Anxiety & Depression

  • Stress-Induced Insomnia

Research suggests that when our beneficial bacteria digest these fibres, they not only multiply, they also release metabolic byproducts that affect brain function – butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that can protect the brain and enhance plasticity

Dietary & Supplemental Prebiotics

Bimuno Daily – was the supplement used in the study and contains the prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).

GOS is also extremely useful for taking 2 weeks prior and during overseas travel to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea and gastrointestinal infection, during and post-antibiotics and for boosting immune health (especially in children). Sensitive people with IBS and SIBO may react to GOS as it is gas-producing, so caution may be needed

Partially Hydrolized Guar Gum (PHGG) – this prebiotic is non-gas forming, and can be safely and easily taken by anyone including those with IBS and SIBO

PHGG is non-FODMAP, and is an extremely useful tool in healing chronic gut symptoms. It is a key treatment strategy for SIBO, IBS, & chronic gut dysbiosis

Dietary sources of prebiotic and prebiotic-like foods:

  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Green Tea
  • Brown Rice
  • Leeks
  • Artichoke
  • Raw potato starch
  • Cooked and then cooled potatoes
  • Raw Cashews
  • Raw oats
  • Garlic
  • Raw chicory root
  • Plantains

Quality sleep is so important for overall health and wellbeing, and up to 1/3 people experience insomnia

Whilst prebiotics are not a stand-alone treatment, it’s definetely proving to be a worthy addition for insomnia treatment. Majority of the clients I see at clinic in Surry Hills (Sydney) benefit from targeting their gut health for improving sleep, energy and mental health

Talk with your naturopath today!

A healthy gut = a healthy life!

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath

Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)

(02) 9211-3811
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Leaky Gut Sydney Naturopath

Chronic Fatigue & Leaky Gut – What’s The Link?

The term ‘leaky gut’ is all over the internet and claimed to be the underlying cause of many conditions, ranging from allergies and intolerances, anxiety and depression, migraines, arthritis, autoimmune diseases and many, many more.

Whilst it is considered a grey area in mainstream medicine, the concept of leaky gut is widely accepted and treated in the naturopathic and integrated medical community.

What exactly is ‘leaky gut’?

Why should you consider addressing it if you suffer from chronic fatigue?

It may sound wishy-washy, but a ‘leaking gut’ actually refers to the medical term “intestinal hyperpermeability”,  where the permeability of the epithelial lining may be compromised and allow the passage of toxins, antigens and bacteria to enter the bloodstream.

When the gut barrier is disrupted and there is dysbiosis in the gut (microbial imbalance), translocation of microbes and undigested food into the bloodstream can result in subsequent inflammation both locally and systemically. This is why it is considered to contribute to such a wide variety of chronic conditions, since many are driven by underlying systemic inflammation

Addressing leaky gut syndrome in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome is important because while there are no biological markers specific to this disease have been identified, the literature suggests that the pathophysiology must involve an integrating system or mechanisms such as the brain-gut axis and the autonomic nervous system

It also describes immune dysfunction, often preceded by viral infection, and it is well documented that intestinal microflora have protective, metabolic, trophic and immunological functions, and are able to “cross-talk” with the immune component of mucosal immunity

It is therefore crucial to address leaky gut syndrome since altered intestinal microbiota, mucosal barrier dysfunction, and aberrant intestinal immunity may contribute to the pathogenesis of the manifestation of Chronic Fatigue

The breakdown of immune homeostasis following the development of gut inflammation, caused for example by dysbiosis, and the consequent increased intestinal permeability and translocation of commensal antigens into systemic circulation is postulated to be a likely cause of fatigue and a range of neuroc-ognitive, neuro-imaging, and overall symptom presentations seen in chronic fatigue patients

From this perspective, until you treat one of the major underlying causes of immune dysfunction observed in chronic fatigue – intestinal hyper-permeability – ongoing chronic fatigue may be difficult to address.

If you think that intestinal hyper-permeability may be associated with your chronic fatigue or other related illness, what can you start doing today?

1. Eliminate aggravating factors:

Gluten, Dairy, Soy and refined carbohydrates are major drivers of inflammation in an already compromised microbiome and gut-wall – Identifying food allergies and intolerances will enable you to remove the foods that you are reacting to, so that the gut can start to heal itself by removing reactive foods

2. Stress Management & Emotional Health

Activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and HPA axis (adrenaline, cortisol) in response to physical and psychological stress increases gut permeability (5) – Incorporating mindful breathing exercises, meditation, creative activities, yoga and scheduled relaxation is crucial not only for leaky gut but overall health. Seeing a psychotherapist or counsellor can also be extremely beneficial

3. Reduce Digestive Symptoms

Although some people with leaky gut appear asymptomatic, many suffer from symptoms such as bloating, excessive flatulence, cramping, alternating bowel movements and causes alot of stress. Taking plant-based digestive enzymes with each meal is a safe and effective way to seek immediate relief from compromised digestion – Bitter foods, drinks and herbs 10-15 minutes before meals help stimulate your own hydrochloric acid and enzyme production:

  • Dandelion Root
  • Gentian
  • Ginger
  • Feverfew
  • St. Mary’s Thistle
  • Rocket (w/ a squeeze of lemon juice)
  • Lemon juice in warm water
  • Apple cider vinegar

Other herbs that improve digestion and relieve symptoms include:

  • Peppermint
  • Chamomile
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cinnamon
  • Fennel
  • Caraway
  • Dill
  • Turmeric
  • Aloe Vera

4. Gut-healing Probiotics & Nutrients:

Targeted probiotic therapy is crucial to reducing gut inflammation and modulating the immune system in leaky gut. There are many products on the market that range in strength and diversity, and is best you speak to a practitioner about which kind is best for you, as it is dependent upon strain and is different for every person. There is also the chance you may react negatively to probiotics so caution is needed –

L-Glutamine CAUTION

Whilst this amino acid is also important for addressing leaky gut, doses of up to 20-30g are needed. Many individuals who in particular suffer from anxiety and mood disorders can react negatively with a worsening of mood, and also muscle fatigue. Determining a practitioner and/or working the dose up gradually is the best approach

Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG)

This one is a winner! A cheap and affordable prebiotic powder that selectively feeds a range of beneficial gut flora (allowing them to proliferate), regulates bowel motions. Unlike most prebiotics it is not FODMAP and can be safely consumed my most people. This is an important long-term strategy for correcting dysbiosis

Leaky gut can be addressed, but not if you ignore it.

There are many other treatments and aspects to consider. Starting with the basic recommendations above is a great start, and working with a practitioner who can work with you to develop individualised treatment plans is the best approach to finally correct what is considered one of the drivers of chronic fatigue. I have personally used Food Biocompatiblity Testing with my clients to remove foods driving underlying inflammation, and have seen incredible results. Addressing leaky gut will seriously revolutionise your health and well-being.

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath
Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)
(02) 92113811
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