We’re so excited to be talking with Dr. Stephen Barrie today! An accomplished physician, author and health advocate, we asked Dr. Barrie about the connection between your gut and mental well-being. Studies are showing more and more that terms like, “Trust your gut” and having “Butterflies in your tummy” are more than just phrases your grandma used! Read on to learn more about how you and your family can benefit from understanding the gut-brain axis.

Understanding the Gut-Brain Axis with Dr. Stephen Barrie

Autism Hope Alliance: Can you explain a bit about the gut-brain axis, which is essentially the connection between the gut and brain?

Dr. Stephen Barrie: We have all used these expressions: Trust Your Gut, Gut Feeling, Gut Wrenching and Butterflies in Your Stomach. It turns out that these colloquialisms are well grounded in science and our physiology. The microbes (trillions of them) that live in your gut actually influence your feelings and behavior. Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes that directly communicate with your brain along what’s called the gut-brain axis, or the vagus nerve. We initially thought the brain was doing most of the communicating in this relationship, but new gut microbiome research is indicating that these microbes actually do most of the talking.

Your gut microbiome is in charge of making or consuming most of your bodys neurotransmitters. You know serotonin, your neurotransmitter? Over 90% of your bodys serotonin is made by your gut microbiome.

In fact, the change in composition of your gut microbes has been shown to significantly affect:

  • Your mood
  • Fetal and Infant brain development
  • Your pain tolerance
  • Your cognitive performance
  • Your behavior
  • Your mental health

AHA: How early on in a baby’s development does the gut-brain axis start to play a role?

Dr. Barrie: Research is showing that the influence starts in late fetal development and then accelerates in infancy. There appears to be a three-way relationship between the brain, gut and stress hormones such as cortisol. Additionally a condition called leaky gut appears to be major contributing factor an imbalanced gut flora (dysbiosis) causes increased permeability of the babys gut wall allowing toxins and macromolecules to pass through the wall into the blood stream.

AHA: Do you think a parent of a child with Autism can benefit from improving their child’s gut health?

Dr. Barrie: Absolutely. Both research and clinical evidence support this. Improving a child’s gut health can result in the immediate reduction of the common GI symptoms associated with ASD children such as constipation, diarrhea, stomach pains etc. Of course equally important is the reduction of food allergies, healing the leaky gut, balancing the neurotransmitter hormones, improving the immune system and reducing inflammation.

AHA: With so many products and dietary lifestyles available, it can be daunting to decide which path is best for you. What are some beginner steps you’d recommend to improve your child’s gut and brain health?

Dr. Barrie: I agree that the lifestyle change choices can be overwhelming. Intuitively we know that a diet based on whole foods, no sugar, high in anti-inflammatory foods, plenty of vegetables and fruits, fermented foods rich in prebiotic foods are the places to start.

No magic here just basic good nutrition choices. Next we want to be sure the child is digesting their nutrients properly, does not have a leaky gut, is feeding the good gut bacteria and does not have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, has a wide diversity of bacteria in their gut. When thinking about supplementing with probiotics it is important to note that most do not colonize so they are most effective while being taken. There are various clinical laboratory tests that can help evaluate the preceding.

AHA: With so many new and fascinating studies on this topic coming up often, what do you think the future holds for the Autism community and this connection?

Dr. Barrie: The promising ongoing research certainly points to a future reduction of ASD incidence and dramatic symptom improvement through healthy manipulation of our gut microbiome. I truly believe there is clear promise for significant changes as we continue to understand the effect of the microbiome with onset of ASD and what the proper interventions will be.

About Dr. Stephen Barrie:

Dr. Barrie is an internationally recognized physician, clinical medical researcher, lecturer, inventor, author and entrepreneur. He is currently an executive with Viome-the microbiome company that will make chronic illness a choice.

Dr. Barrie was in clinical practice during the mid 1980s as co-founder of the Great Smokies Medical Center, specializing in integrative medicine and clinical ecology. GSMC was the first large integrated anti-aging medical center in the United States.

He is the founder and former CEO/Chairman of Genova Diagnostics, the world’s largest Functional Medicine clinical reference laboratory for physicians which he started in 1986 to advance natural medicine and the scientific research of integrative and anti-aging medicine around the world. Dr. Barrie developed and patented many of the present day laboratory tests used for understanding the root causes of many chronic diseases.

Dr. Barrie is also a New York Times and LA Times bestselling author of several health books including 7 Day Detox Miracle, Energize Your Life and numerous scientific articles, which have appeared in major medical journals including The Lancet, Agents and Actions and Medical Hypothesis.