Early readers of my memoir BrainStorm, gave me feedback that they wanted more guidance on how to work with their Bipolar Spectrum brains. And I’ve got lots of practice. So I coined the acronym PECS: physical, emotional, creative and spiritual. In part II of the book, “now what,” I offer practices in all four.
Presently, in relation to PECS, there are two areas of inquiry I’m finding fascinating: the Psychobiome and Epigenetics. Both relatively new areas of research. Both promising for helping people with Bipolar Spectrum and other brain challenges.
I’m looking at a book right now called The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain connection by John Cryan, PhD, an Irish academic who gave the keynote speech last may at the International Society of Bipolar Disorders (ISBD) annual conference that I also spoke at. I found that choice of keynotes fascinating in itself; that the preeminent academics, clinicians, pscychiatrists, and more in the field of bipolar would choose to make an expert in the pscyhobiome their #1 speaker. Clearly they believe that the gut-brain connection is real.
Cryan’s work makes a direct connection between the health of gut flora – sometimes referred to as the “microbiome” – and brain health. I had learned that the gut flora is where much of our immune systems is built. Indeed my very skillful and well-researched Naturopath, Dr Amy Rothenberg, prescribes fermented foods to her patients to build immune strength especially as winter comes along. I had also heard that the gut is sometimes referred to as “the second brain” and that many of our neuro-transmitters are created there. But Cryan’s research – 500 peer reviewed papers later – takes it a step further: bipolar and other forms of severe depression can be triggered when our gut flora is unhealthy. In further cosmic nod to the beauty of difference – cue the rainbow flag – a diverse gut flora is a flourishing gut flora. (And vice versa). If we only have a couple bugs in ours gut, our brains can crash.
To take a riff on diversity for a minute, we know that the healthiest eco-systems are diverse eco-systems. Mono-culture eventually spells death of soil. And this can in turn crush human systems. Think of the Irish potato famine for example. One crop fails, millions starve. Architect and sustainability author Bill McDonough teaches that “nature adores diversity.” Or to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot” and whole lot of species die. Turns out our guts, just like the ecosystems we live in, love diversity.
It’s always fascinating to me how the microcosm on this planet is reflected in the macrocosm. As one example, the equation for attraction at the atomic scale is the same as the equation for gravitational pull at the planetary scale. (That blew my mind when I learned it in geology class four decades ago). There are many more examples like that, as described in the book, Biocentrism.
Back from the cosmos to our bodies, I never knew that cultivating diversity in our guts (which we can do via some simple diet changes, like increasing fermented foods) can have a direct connection to the health of our brains. How cool is that? There will be a lot more to learn, I imagine, as we dig deeper into the brain –gut connection. For now, all I gotta do is have some miso soup for lunch. Apparently, that’s one of those fermented foods that gut bugs love.