Seven Reasons a Brain Injury Can Destroy Your Gut
According to the CDC, incidence of hospital visits for traumatic brain injury have increased over the past decade. It is one of the leading causes of disability world-wide. You may know that the gut and brain are intricately connected but did you know that many people who experience brain trauma often experience resulting gut issues? The gut problems come from alternations in the gut-brain axis or the communication network between our intestines and our cerebral matter. When this delicate network is disrupted, it may result in dramatic gastrointestinal dysfunction, chronic pain or even disability.
According to Dr. Kharrazian, there are seven key ways in which traumatic brain injury can alter GI function, each of which may contribute to your chronic gastrointestinal disorders.
- Autonomic Dysregulation – this occurs when the autonomic nervous system no longer appropriately controls things that should come automatically, like heart rate, breathing, and gut motility. If the system becomes overactive to a sympathetic stimulus the result may trigger a chronic pain loop that is hard to control, leading to abdominal pain.
- Disorders of visceral sensing and processing – Visceral sensing is the gut’s way of telling the brain what is going on. Sensations in the gut such as temperature, pH, contractility communicate with the brain to notify the body what is happening in the digestive system. Disruption of these sensing circuits is one of the main factors implicated in irritable bowel disorders (IBS). Brain injury often contributes to a broken communication network between gut and brain.
- Increase in intestinal permeability (leaky gut) – After brain injury the tight junctions that connect the cells that line your gut often become dysfunctional and allow large molecules to enter from the digestive tract into the blood stream. Normally these tight junctions are protecting you from the large molecules, such as undigested food particles, bacterial parts or other luminal contacts that could cross over into the blood stream. We know that the increase in intestinal permeability is a key factor in the development of autoimmune diseases, from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis to multiple sclerosis.
- Compromise of intestinal mucosa – Very commonly after brain injury, there is a compromise in the health of the mucosal lining. We see this in patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as well… anytime the body is under massive stress, there is a tendency for the mucosa that lines the gut to atrophy and die. The changes we see are often immediate and occur within minutes after brain injury, severe trauma or infection.
- Breakdown of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) – The BBB, as it is affectionately known, protects your delicate gray matter from outside chemicals and inflammatory agents that may cause problems if allowed to enter. After a brain injury, this barrier is often compromised, allowing massive inflammatory triggers inside the brain where they do not belong.
- Brain Immune Dysfunction – The Central Nervous System (CNS) controls much of the immune system and the production of inflammatory signaling molecules, like cytokines. If there is an injury to the signaling mechanism it may contribute to either over-activation or under-activation of the immune system This can lead to either immune compromise or autoimmune disease, where the body attacks itself.
- Impaired gut motility – Sadly we see this as a factor in many disorders such as intestinal dysbiosis and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). The impairment in smooth muscle contractility of the gut mucosa leads to dysmotility. This dysmotility leads stagnation and alteration in bowel function and even malabsorption. Ultimately patients may have very severe symptoms related to this problem of abnormal peristalsis in the gut.
Can see how these many mechanisms of action on the gut after brain injury may contribute to chronic pain and dysfunction, not only in the gut but the immune system as well? Here’s some simple things you can do to ensure you will maintain a healthy gut for life!
So What Can I Do to Maintain a Healthy Gut?
- Eat a variety of colorful organic and local produce
- Avoid genetically modified foods and glyphosate which contribute to a leaky gut
- Take a daily multi-strain probiotic to support your microbiome and immune system
- Eat prebiotic-rich fruits and vegetables to feed your healthy gut bugs
- Protect your noggin! Wear a helmet if you are skiing, biking or doing any activity that involves risk of head trauma
- Try Restore, my favorite new product to restore gut health and heal tight junctions. Call Amy at #303-993-7910 if you would like more info….
Although we cannot predict or even prevent a head injury, it’s important to realize that if it does happen to you, your gut function may be affected. Start NOW to take steps to develop a healthy gut microbiome in the meantime!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
This has happened to me- major digestive problems after a brain injury. My question is, after it has happened, do I just work on my gut to try to control symptoms, or is there something needed to be done in order to fix the communication between gut and brain?
Yes, you might try seeing a functional neurologist may help as there are exercises one can do to stimulate the vagal nerve, such as gagging and gargling.
Thank you for the very informative information.
I grew up in South Africa and when I was approximately 6, I fell of a motorized milk cart, the front and back wheels went over my head. I believe this is the reason for my hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue. I also have MTHFR. Is there a way to seen what kind of damage may have been done when I fell off the milk cart and the wheels went over my head twice?
I have always had issues with my digestion, weight loss and I have a terrible memory, to name a few things. Of course as I get older, it seems like everything gets worse!
I would appreciate any advice and/or input.
Thank you in advance.
I suggest finding a functional medicine doctor to help you – you can search by zip code at http://www.functionalmedicine.org
Hello, I’m a mother of a child with a brain injury and a new RN interested in the microbiome! Could you point me to the research behind this? I would love to do a poster project on my neuro patients with C.diff.
Sure, I get all my data from PubMed and google alerts.
Thanks Jill! This is exactly what happened to me too. I was walking half asleep through the house in the middle of the night to let the dog out and ran straight into a wall. I was “fine” but my head tingled for months and that was the beginning of my spiral of health problems, starting with SIBO and gut dysbiosis.
best in health and healing to you!
Hi, I’m from Turkey, Thanks to you,
I had very much information from your website. I have an interesting disease. But our doctors can’t do anything. When I eat , my face got redness. So I got candida diet for 5 months. I have been using probiotic, magnesium..etc. But I’m still bad. What can you suggest to me? Thank you, Best regards
You may need comprehensive stool testing to determine the cause.
This happened to me. I ended up in chronic body wide pain. I started seeing a Functional Neurologist and taking Restore a year ago and I am almost back to normal! Worth every penny.
Hope you are doing better!
In addition to Restore, what else did you take that helped?
I’m a graduate student researcher in neurocritical care.
I would love to learn more about this topic, I find it fascinating.
Could you please suggest some papers on compromised intestinal mucosa and leaky gut?
Sure, Kelly… I typically go to PubMed, under advanced type in various topics of interest, limiting to human studies and more recent years… There is so much great research coming out on the gut and microbiome!
Hello Dr Jill, First I want to thank you for speaking on the “Autoimmune Summit” with Tom O’Bryan. I really appreciate your huge heart I heard expressed. I came to your website and came across this article and tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes because I finally found a missing puzzle piece. Unfortunately I was a victim of domestic abuse that involved a head injury, which I now believe despite going to a clinic, was an undiagnosed concussion. My health and function rapidly deteriorated from that point and I had less and less mental resources to resolve my issues. Thanks be to God, I was led here 🙂 You recommend PubMed as a resource but do you know of any others that deal with the area of medicine and its legal/social ramifications? Thanks for any feedback!
I suggest contacting an attorney for medical-legal issues.
I left a vm..Can Restore be used for a dog that had brain injury that has IBS?
It can! Here are Dr Bush’s recommended usages for our pets.
1 tsp twice daily in food for cats and dogs. 1/4 tsp twice daily for rodents etc. 1/4 cup in feed twice daily for horses.
I had a metastatic melanoma successfully removed from my brain 5 years ago. Am I correctly assuming that that would be considered brain trauma? It was a few years after that when my more severe digestive issues started.
Yes, anything affecting the central nervous system may affect the gut
Hi. Dr. Jill
I was hit by a car on 12/8/15 displayed cognitive slowing, memory impairment, reduced stress threshold, mental irritability, elevated anger, insomnia. I had changed my diet / lifestyle 10/15 and had a high density nutritious diet however I was not thriving. It impacted my relationships because the symptoms were outside my control. No MRI or CAT scan utilized at time of injury. Additionally, in Sept 2011 again suffered my 2nd concussion when I got knocked out while riding my bike to work. MRI done and twin EEG’s 1 irregular and last more normalized. Many symptoms have dissipated but some still persist. Additionally, I perceive I have leaky gut based on the fact that my body is not absorbing the nutrients and am now aware of generalized inflammation throughout the body. Will be going to the Amen Clinic in April to document the damage and come up with and effective treatment plan. I have been using digestive enzymes to aid in breakdown of food. Serrapeptidase and a large amount of Protololytic enzymes to breakdown undigested fats, carbohydrates and proteins in my blood. Vitamin D3 5000 mg, Zinc, GABA, L-Glutamine, Bone Broth Protein, Thyroid support which has selenium and ashwaganda to Support normal Thyroid function as well as Chlorella to enhance immune and benefit from a large amount of nutritional value. I have found that I have lost weight and was probably at least 25lbs heavier most of my life and am down to 123lbs. I subsequently started using L-Glutamine because of the noted loss in muscle mass. I am going to be initiating the GAPS diet protocol due to what is clearly a gut issue. Any other advice I’m clearly open to suggestions. Thank you.
You would do well to find a functional medicine doctor to evaluate and treat your gut.
This is interesting. All my food intolerances and gut problems started after I clashed heads with my partner one evening. I put it down to the level of alcohol consumed that evening! I ended up in hospital the next day because I was concerned that the cuts around my eyes could be serious. My blood pressure was so elevated that they didn’t want me to leave for a while and I ended up on blood pressure medication. I ended up reacting to the bp meds and losing even more foods. Since I cleaned up my diet and got rid of gluten and dairy I have come off the medication. I still have occassional weird burning sensations in my head on the side of the clash and unfortunately the intolerances I have been left with mean I can’t tolerate most supplements because of corn, yeast, soy, lactose etc. So, it is difficult for me to get better with supplementation. I’ve got used to the way I eat now – gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nut free. As a result of my intolerances I’m 2 months off completing a 3 year nutritional therapy course – every cloud …. Is there research on pubmed talking about the connection between head injury and gut problems. So interesting, i’ve heard this topic mentioned before but not with so much conviction. Thank you
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keep up writing.
Is there any test available to determine the extent of brain damage after a head trauma? even decades later? I had three major head traumas before the age of 18, (front, back and top of head). Now, 30 yrs later, I have little to none memory. I’ve had mild IBS, but blame it on chemo/radiation/tamoxifen, 20 yrs ago. mild depression. brain fog. I’m sure we cant reverse the damage, but I would like to rule out causes, to determine best mode of improvement.
Functional MRI and Volumetric imaging may be useful
Hi Jill, I’ll just lay everything out as best as I can.
I’m currently 30 years old, recently (1 month ago), I was involved in a major accident that left me with multiple broken ribs (lower) and a TBI.
My diet is essentially gluten free foods and iced tea.
Since then, I’ve had constant bloating, diarrhea, and an inability to process myself normally, it’s become a daily nightmare as far as my daily life is concerned.
I saw a Gastroenterologist about one week ago that concluded that my symptoms were similar to IBS.
He prescribed me Dicyclomine for the issue, but it only made things worse, I felt like I was so dizzy that I was going to faint. Am currently awaiting my Neurologist’s decision on whether or not to continue taking the drug at the moment as I am still recovering from the head injury.
Daily, I feel depressed, anxious, and disoriented, and some days I’ll feel better than the previous. I get mentally fatigued very easily (which I’m told is only a side effect of the brain healing).
It’s hard for me to think straight, even more to function normally throughout my day.
In your opinion, do these symptoms warrant another hospital visit? Or, should I just bear through them and let my body/brain continue to heal?
yes, this sounds like more than IBS
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