Tryptophan, serotonin, microbes and mood …

Good Saturday. That was a busy week for a limpet like me, and here is a weird anecdote/book review from said week, but it surely did happen to me.

I have just finished listening to a book called Brain Maker by Dr. David Perlmutter


in which he makes a lot of claims about the positive effects the bacteria in your belly can have on your brain, almost so many that your “cure all” alarm starts to go off, except that he has pretty good studies and science backing him up, and he is quick to say when he is speculating.

Now many of us grew up believing that the tryptophan in turkey made you sleepy, only to be grossly disillusioned as adults when told that wasn’t true. But here is a replacement fact, better than the one before. While this is somewhat dense reading, these folks from the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University College Cork, in Ireland, actually explain this complex system very succinctly in the abstract for their 2014 article, “Serotonin, tryptophan metabolism and the brain-gut-microbiome axis.”

The brain-gut axis is a bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin functions as a key neurotransmitter at both terminals of this network. Accumulating evidence points to a critical role for the gut microbiome in regulating normal functioning of this axis. In particular, it is becoming clear that the microbial influence on tryptophan metabolism and the serotonergic system may be an important node in such regulation. There is also substantial overlap between behaviours influenced by the gut microbiota and those which rely on intact serotonergic neurotransmission. The developing serotonergic system may be vulnerable to differential microbial colonisation patterns prior to the emergence of a stable adult-like gut microbiota. At the other extreme of life, the decreased diversity and stability of the gut microbiota may dictate serotonin-related health problems in the elderly. The mechanisms underpinning this crosstalk require further elaboration but may be related to the ability of the gut microbiota to control host tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway, thereby simultaneously reducing the fraction available for serotonin synthesis and increasing the production of neuroactive metabolites. The enzymes of this pathway are immune and stress-responsive, both systems which buttress the brain-gut axis. In addition, there are neural processes in the gastrointestinal tract which can be influenced by local alterations in serotonin concentrations with subsequent relay of signals along the scaffolding of the brain-gut axis to influence CNS neurotransmission. Therapeutic targeting of the gut microbiota might be a viable treatment strategy for serotonin-related brain-gut axis disorders.

And now for the exciting anecdote. I had really been feeling like I was swimming in soup the past week or so. Nothing particularly wrong, just dragging my feet and feeling kind of weepy. So while I am listening to Brain Maker, I realise that I have been on antibiotics quite a few times throughout my life, some fairly intense, and just recently again this fall, and have had my thrilling chronic cyclical vomiting episodes for years. So maybe this applies to me. Now after my last trip to the hospital last summer at the cottage my father-in-law gave me some probiotics that his pharmacist recommended to him, which I will happily buzz market, called Florastor. I had taken a couple but not continued for no particular reason, and had the small jar here in Ottawa. So I started taking them, two twice a day. To say that my mood improved would be a ludicrous understatement. Nothing external changed, but I swear within two days I just felt the tears back away and I cannot imagine what else could have been the cause of such a large swing. My leg has been quite sore, my side has been quite sore, we haven’t suddenly won the lottery and it is tax season. But the angst is low and the change was so noticeable. Now I understand (so to speak) the placebo effect and the power of suggestion, and if that is what happened here, then bring it on! But I can only heartily recommend both the (slightly preachy) book and upping the probiotics in your life. Yoghurt was already on the menu, but there seem to be a lot of key bacteria out there and once displaced they have trouble reestablishing themselves.

Apparently we are host to a large array of bacteria, or perhaps they are hosting us, as it turns out even our mitochondria, once proud bacteria themselves, have their own dna. Treating these creatures well, and feeding them what they desire, seems a very good idea. And interestingly, some of the bad bacteria crave sugars so in an astonishingly sci-fi moment, it is quite possible that it isn’t you doing the craving, you are merely the delivery mechanism, feeding the host in your gut.

So science and anecdote met in my belly it would appear, and put a smile on my face. I am a little stunned, but feeling very pro probiotic.

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32 Responses to Tryptophan, serotonin, microbes and mood …

  1. xty says:

    Good chilly morning. How do plants manage! It is amazing. Some plants if they even get a hint of chill simply wither and yet others can clearly freeze without cell damage. A nifty trick and one the frogs seem to have mastered, although don’t quote me on that.

  2. xty says:

    Like a cruel April joke:

    View post on

  3. xty says:

    Seeking some cheerful inspiration in the gathering twilight after a long class, offspring #3 asked a classmate to offer him some uplifting advice, to which said classmate responded after the briefest of pauses, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

    Hard to add to.

  4. xty says:

    Good morning … sort of!

  5. xty says:

    I have been listening to a depressing but also sort of hopeful book called The Body Keeps the Score. The author, Bessel A. van der Kolk, became a psychiatrist in the glory days of pharmaceuticals and was one of the first doctors to prescribe Prozac, and initially fell prey to the apparently remarkable results drugs seemed to offer. But then he got grumpy about how no one seemed to be interested in why the patients had the problems they had and, especially with youth, simply medicated people into compliance making them easier for others to deal with but getting nowhere near root cause or long term solutions. And thus began his fascinating but grizzly look into the long term effects on brain wiring that intense trauma can cause. The book is tough to handle because the traumas he deals with are so ghastly, but I think that we all go through various experiences that hit us hard or take us by surprise or that we cannot avoid, and they too take on a remarkable life in the wiring of the brain. By watching brain scans of very brave people reliving trauma, and also the contribution of poor unwitting animals, it would appear that when something occurs that the brain cannot process properly, when flight or fight should have been an option but weren’t in particular, the part of the brain responsible for initially witnessing something continues to light up as though the events were still occurring, and when this phenomenon is happening, your Broca area, responsible for ordering and making sense of things, turns off. When you think you are losing your mind, you kind of are! And so what happens is one loses the ability to distinguish now from then and then from now. Fascinating and makes some sense of those odd cyclical playing over of bad memories moments … almost like flashbacks. It is what is becoming an old canard, neurons that fire together wire together. Hope lies in mindfulness and I really hope in the next few chapters!

  6. xty says:

    Holy frozen moly!

    And good morning.

  7. xty says:

    Good Morning, in that it is going to be above zero celsius, today, for a moment.

  8. xty says:

    So last spring, what with losing me mum and then breaking my leg, my gardening adventures were quite limited, and one of the things that suffered was any sort of getting ready for spring. But this year the house is bristling with jars with things rooting, and after hanging around the kitchen in a homemade envelope through two winters, the magnificent marigold seeds that one of my delightful nieces had packaged up for me, from my mother-in-law’s cottage garden, have come to this happy pass, in a cooler scrounged from the hospital years ago, where they have an excess of this kind of thing, if you aren’t squeamish about what was in it before, in this case, blood products:

    Mimi's Marigolds

  9. xty says:

    And it snowed and it snowed and it snowed … must endure … apparently it will be 20C on Saturday …

    Maybe coffee will help …

  10. xty says:

    Good morning. Coffee did help, but getting back to yoga class sure helps too. Finally it was the spring session and my leg is quite cooperative (if still a bit of a sore nightmare at times) and I graduated myself to gentle yoga from restorative. It is gentle, but quite the challenge. It might also finally be spring … and I am more than ready. Just to walk on clear ground will be nice. I have never been much of one for fear, and being afraid of falling down this winter has been unpleasant. But I have gained a much needed 10 pounds, and if I can only figure out how to “lift my kneecaps”, something apparently only I cannot do, all will be well. I do seem to have the required muscles, just nothing happens when I try to do it by itself. It reminds me of my dyslexia … I know what I want to happen and I know I should be able to make it happen, and then nothing …

    One of my worst school moments happened in Grade 8 (maybe 7) when I was at the front of the class and had to write the word “says” on the board as part of a sentence, and all I could see in my mind was SAIS in large red and I knew it was wrong, and writing sez would just make me look disruptive, and I am pretty sure I just put the chalk down and walked out of class. I have wondered as an adult how much of my poor school behaviour and attendance was avoiding these kinds of situations. Somehow in university it was under my control, and I had figured out how to avoid troublesome moments, but it was only when I told my mum I could only read 20 pages an hour that any acknowledgement that I might be having a problem was made, and by then it was too late for help.
    I have probably drivelled on about this before, but it came to mind the other day because of the brain trauma book, the Body Keeps the Score. My mind went blank. And it undoubtedly really did go blank and I fled. But the book has gotten more hopeful, and yes, there is no escaping yoga it would appear. As effective a treatment as any they have found, basically, for a wounded soul. And it seems to work well for those of us who are only partly wounded, as I believe we all are.

  11. xty says:

    I should add I do not think all yoga is equal. I have been directed towards Iyengar yoga, which is systematic and philosophic, with an emphasis on guided meditation, so to speak, through active instruction on technique so your mind is turned to your body and doesn’t have space to wander.

    Suits my post karate mindset.

  12. xty says:

    And good morning, yet again.

  13. xty says:

    Well good sunny morning! Feel like a bag of dirt, as a friend used to say, but it is a lovely day and other than my beef suet didn’t harden as expected so I am going to fill the house with hideous smells again as I render it further, life carries on. I think we might take the tarps off the boat today, and join the clutter and chatter at the sailing club, as us and the other lunatics dream of spending all our time and money on the water. I need a dream in my head … I remember this distinctly with my mum, the importance of having things to look forward to and get ready for, and as one slowly falls apart at the seams this seems to become more and more important.

    That and I am itching to get the pressure washer out and pressure wash the bejeezus out of everything, including the good old Honda Pilot that must go to a better place, and rust in pieces.

  14. xty says:

    Just have to point to the word of the day, which I really think is both cute and horrendous, and which I just put up, finally … word of the eon, or e-yawn.

  15. xty says:

    I put in the link for no real reason given that the WoD is on the front page … I just seem to like links.

  16. xty says:

    and good early morning ….

    Not interesting, just happy to say that all the leaves are binned and the driveway and front walk swept. Ottawa gets really dirty in the winter and they put down this evil black grit on the sidewalks and salt on the roads and there is a fine and repellent black dust everywhere. The street cleaner has come many times, but there are always cars in front of our house. Now the one excellent neighbour who always parks there did come and shovel it all up where the cleaner couldn’t get, but dust remains galore. And then we got out the pressure washer because that was going to be the fun part of the job, and first no start, and then no pressure. So a gremlin to be found and crushed today. But it sure looks nicer out front. And I found two croci that I had forgotten about and also a number of struggling but brave hyacinths. I think they are bulbs from flowers for mum just before she shuffled of her mortal coil. She really like the garden on her windowsill.

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    It feels like more than a year ago … but no, last spring was a bit of a bummer.

  17. xty says:

    Good morning.

  18. xty says:

    Pressure achieved and much dirt removed. Very satisfying but more to do.

  19. xty says:

    And from the category of exciting gardening news, the basil I planted survived a ham-fisted transplanting, and Mimi’s marigolds are steaming along:

    Basil Seedlings

    Mimi's Intrepid Marigolds

  20. xty says:

    Who knew? Well, the internet obviously … but not me until now:

    Anemone bulbs often benefit from a pre-planting soak to get them ready to grow. Before you head out to the garden to plant soak your anemone bulbs for 2-4 hours or overnight in a small bowl of water. This will encourage them to sprout faster and get growing so they develop a good network of roots their first autumn in the garden.

  21. xty says:

    Good morning …

  22. xty says:

    I try to be pretty open and honest here, but I don’t think anyone needs to know that I am going to have a camera look at my bladder today. I had a very exciting MRI on Monday of my right hip area, and while I have had others, I don’t remember one where you didn’t have to hold your breath. A big fan of non-intrusive, and today will perhaps be non-intrusive, but it will be invasive. Just have to woman up! But I know it has me apprehensive.

  23. xty says:

    Well I am sure you will all be delighted to know my bladder is perfectly normal, which I had suspected, and I am pretty sure I just went through a completely unnecessary medical procedure, and am kind of steamed about a missing ultrasound and a specialist who has basically failed to ask me a single question pertinent to my symptoms, ordered and performed said procedure, after which he informed me he had yet to see the ultrasound of my abdomen, which happened about a month ago. So essentially nothing has happened in the intervening month to address my problems, and limbo continues. Grrrrrrr. But good morning, and isn’t it a pretty one! Nasturtium seeds now in a tray of dirt, as I fill our back hall with seedlings as I try to extend the growing season. But it turns out, apparently, that living in a cold climate leads to greater reported happiness:

    Ten Happiest Countries (Australia is the only warm one, Canada comes in 5th, and the States don’t make the cut!)

  24. xty says:

    I coined an obvious word this good morning, moodpain. It is so hard to tell which comes first, the worse mood or the greater pain, but they sure are travelling companions. Must remember the power of yoga.

    And a damp morning to you all, but a good morning for the garden and I did put down some hopeful grass seed earlier this week and this is just what it needs.

  25. xty says:

    A somewhat spontaneous trip to Penetanguishene on the cards this morning. We have an old wreck of a Range Rover that we used to tow the old Catalina, and the whole thing has become an eyesore and an issue at the parents-in-law, and we have rented a truck in Orillia which we will pick up around 1:00 pm, and then putter around with junk, something we actually kind of enjoy. Photos to follow no doubt.

    And good morning …

  26. xty says:

    And good afternoon. Safe and sound and maybe found someone interested in the Rover!

    And yes, he wants it! Boss.

  27. xty says:

    And there she goes … bye-bye Minnicog Queen …

    We had our honeymoon on her, and went on a fabulous 25th wedding anniversary trip, and sailed in-between with three kids and a dog. But her time has truly come and, frankly, there is no comparison, other than waaaaaahooooo, to our new boat. So so long, and thanks for all the fish.

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  28. xty says:

    And now to tidy up and make it home … but yesterday was surprisingly efficient and effective, and imagine someone called Drover wants the Rover …

    Hope all mornings are good …

  29. xty says:

    Ah, I found it. Actually this is the other old Rover, which has been rusting in a friend’s field for quite some time, but a favourite photo. Penny and Wolf. Penny, thank heavens, wasn’t ours. She could dash through an electric fence and gobble down a chicken skewer, skewer and all, in a split second. Another bye-gone day, but a relief to have finally found a home for the second Rover.

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    And good morning … from chilly Ottawa. That was quite the whirlwind.

  30. xty says:

    Good afternoon. Struggling with the new printer/scanner, in preparation for presenting another exciting Xty video, of the Catalina. I am sure you can’t wait.

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