Neurological Disease: Exploring the "Second Brain" for Therapeutic Alternatives
When a problem arises involving behaviour or thought, it is logical to focus on the brain for an explanation. However, depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s disease are among several neuro-related conditions that have been predominantly studied through brain research, yet still poorly understood. But what if the underlying problem does not originate in the brain…at least the one in your head?
The human gut (or so-called “second brain”) is home to a diverse and complex microbial community, referred to as the gut microbiota. Through various biochemical mechanisms, it can influence several processes within our bodies including human physiology, metabolism, nutrition, and immune function. In a healthy individual, there is homeostatic balance between the body and gut microbiota. However, disruption of this microbial community (termed “dysbiosis”) can have serious consequences on our health. If fact, it’s not only been linked to various gastrointestinal conditions, but emerging evidence suggests this unbalance could also play a fundamental role in a number of psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as autism, anxiety, depression and Parkinson’s disease.
Although researchers are only beginning to understand this relationship, several factors have been implicated in microbiota dysbiosis including the overuse of antibiotics, ingestion of toxic compounds (E.g., pesticides), and poor diet. Interestingly, several studies have shown that restoring balance to the gut microbiota can significantly improve the disease status of unhealthy individuals.
This suggests that therapeutic management of our “second brain” may open the door to new treatment opportunities to prevent or alleviate symptoms of neurological and neurodegenerative disease.