For July and August, I am taking a break from writing a blog. I am…
Orgonomy is a mind-body analytic approach that understands the functional relationship between the two; it does not hold a dualistic conceptualization of mind as separate from body. Orgonomy treats the problematic character defenses and how those very character patterns translate as body “armor”, and manifest in a variety of biophysical symptoms.
A relatively new area of research is making strides in the microbiome-brain connection and its relationship to mental health disorders. This research is illustrative of the profound interconnectedness of the mind and the body. The research into the microbiome-gut-brain axis, as it is referenced, is attempting to solve the riddles of how gut bacteria within the microbiota may affect our mental/physical states. Using fecal transplants and other research designs with both mice and human subjects, the edges of the puzzle are beginning to form. A decade ago, this idea was seen by scientists as hogwash and was emphatically rejected, but now international researchers are peering into the microbes within our microbiome to isolate specific ones that might correlate with certain diseases.
Making the Mind-Body Connection
They do know that the microbiome-gut-brain axis is a circular process and can be impacted at either end, resulting in a variety of interesting hypotheses; it is bidirectional. Therefore changes in attitude and mental states may affect the microbiome, just as the microbiome affects our psychological condition.
There are billions of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. We once assumed that the blood-brain barrier limited access to the brain. Now we know that bacteria in the gut create metabolites that can circulate across the barrier. According to Bergland (2016) we understand that the barrier is penetrable and the brain is highly impacted by microbes from the gut: the pathways are achieved through blood flow and through the vagus nerve, known as the “wandering nerve”, the longest cranial nerve that travels from the brain stem through the neck and into the chest and abdomen, enervating the heart, major blood vessels, airways, lungs, esophagus, stomach and intestines. It controls the parasympathetic part of the nervous system that regulates among other things our ability to “rest and digest” as opposed to the sympathetic which drives the “fight-or- flight” response (Bergland, 2016).
So you can see how this intertwined system cannot be separated into fragments. An overly aroused system of fight-flight responses and accompanying neurotransmitter activity is now seen as stimulating systemic inflammatory responses that are indicated in chronic pain responses (Bergland, 2016). OK, you get the picture of these profound connections: the revolving door of “mental states” becoming “physical states”, and back around, while deeply embedded in our nervous system, influencing our neurotransmitters, hormones, pain responses, etc. — all resulting in who we are, how we feel and how we live.
Inflammation is another probable connection that can impact the brain as immune stimulating molecules potentially cross the barrier effecting neural functioning. The microorganisms in our gut affect our immune system functioning, defend against infection, and create neurochemicals that impact the brain. More research is needed on these various mechanisms and how they affect our mental/physical health. We do know these interactions directly affect our autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic (Weir, 2018).
For many decades research has confirmed the existence of a “second brain” in our gut, as it houses a multitude of neurons and neurotransmitters (the enteric nervous system). Receptors in the enteric system are sensitive and set off hormonal changes throughout the body. We experience our emotions and our subliminal fears in automatic, habitual responses in our gut. When we are anxious or tense, our bellies clench and we experience roiling sensations and anxious feelings in our tummies.
This latest research is finding deeper connections between the quality of the microbiome and mental health disorders. As Orgonomists we make these connections as they are apparent in the way our patients feel, the way their breath flows into all regions of their body, the complaints of gastrointestinal pain, constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); all reflect a connection between the gut, the autonomic nervous system health, and the enteric nervous system that can initiate symptoms. More information is being collected with additional studies of the microbiome.
Through preliminary research there are fledgling connections being made between some mental illnesses and microbiome conditions. What are scientists finding in their preliminary investigations? According to Weir (2018), “People with gastrointestinal disorders have higher-than-average rates of neuropsychiatric problems such as bipolar disorder and depression, she notes, while people with schizophrenia often have blood markers that are suggestive of gastrointestinal inflammation. People with autism spectrum disorder have higher rates of gastrointestinal problems than the general population.” Zimmer (2019) describes a current study on mice that creates dementia-like effects mimicking Alzheimer’s by experimenting with changing the bacteria in the gut. This study has honed in on possibly one chemical in the microbiome that could alter how immune cells work in the brain thus affecting the build up of clumps of proteins that indicate dementia.
As researchers study stress-related pathology in mice and its relationship to beneficial bacteria, they induce a state of stress by creating a colony with a dominant aggressor mouse and subordinate mice. Weir (2018) tells us “Normally, subordinate mice in this situation show signs of anxiety and develop colitis, an inflammation of the colon.” These mice were injected with a bacterium shown to reduce inflammation. With this treatment, the mice showed lower levels of inflammation thus less submissive behaviors toward the dominant mouse, resulting in less anxiety and fear reactivity. The treatment prevented stress-induced colitis (Weir, 2018). Interestingly, one can see that when we feel subjectively or in reality that we are trapped in a situation where we are unable to express our aggression and instead, feel controlled, we develop serious symptoms of stress or PTSD.
As we know in Orgonomy, the in-utero environment has a critical effect on our development. Zimmer (2019) states: “It is likely that this influence begins before birth, as a pregnant mother’s microbiome releases molecules that make their way into the fetal brain. Mothers seed their babies with microbes during childbirth and breast-feeding. During the first few years of life, both the brain and the microbiome rapidly mature.” Studies of infant amygdalas, the emotional processing center of the brain, are analyzing the effect of diversity of species in the gut and their effect on an infant’s developmental issues. The amygdala, part of the limbic system, controls our primitive reactions, predominantly fear and the memory of it and other emotions (Zimmer, 2019).
All this research is at a preliminary stage, so there are no real prescriptions for microbiome-based cures, and we have to be careful not to be seduced by promotional hype not founded on evidence-based research (Zimmer, 2019).
This is exciting research with great therapeutic potential. For the purposes of this blog it reinforces the mind-body connection. As we change our mental processes we affect our microbiome. Weir (2018) tells us “That suggests a top-down effect …If you change the autonomic nervous system activity by decreasing anxiety and increasing coping skills, the signals get from the brain down to the microbes in the gut. It’s not just the microbes talking to the brain. The brain has a big part in this conversation as well.”
The article from Weir (2018) concludes with a section for psychologists, suggesting that we converse with our patients about dietary considerations. As Orgonomists, we always review these factors: diet, exercise, sleep, self-care and self-regulation, as we know that all these habits directly influence our mental health.
Bergland, Christopher. (2016, July). Vagus nerve stimulation dramatically reduces inflammation. Psychology Today.
Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/vagus-nerve-stimulation-dramatically-reduces-inflammation
Weir, Kirsten. (2018, December). The future of psychobiotics. Monitor on Psychology, Volume 49, Issue 11.
Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/12/cover-psychobiotics
Zimmer, Carl. (2019, January 28). Germs in your gut are talking to your brain. Scientists want to know what they’re saying. The New York Times, Science Times.
Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/28/health/microbiome-brain-behavior-dementia.html