Gut Considerations in Traumatic Brain Injury

You have heard of the phrase “trust your gut,” or “go with your gut,” but did you
know that there is actually some truth to that? Known as the gut-brain axis, the
brain and gut form a connection that link aspects of your health to one another. This
can include mood, stress, the way you think, how your digestion is working, immune
function, and among others.

With traumatic brain injury (TBI), it can be easy to overlook the gut as a symptom or side effect associated with injury to the brain. Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction is not uncommon following a brain injury. It occurs when the gut lining becomes damaged and inflamed. Although not entirely understood, it is believed that initial insult to the brain affects the expression of proteins that monitor and protect the gut lining. What this means for some individuals who experience TBI is an increase in inflammation in the gut and problems with gut permeability. This can lead to complications like difficulty absorbing and digesting food, changes in bowel movements, food intolerances or sensitivities, susceptibility to infections, or changes in appetite or mood.

How do we address these changes after a brain injury? One of the preferred
methods of assessing GI function is through a stool test. These types of tests allow
doctors to evaluate your GI health in-depth. They allow insight to inflammation,
parasites or other potential pathogens, flora present in the gut, and evaluate
markers for irritable bowel disease. With this information, health care providers are
able to create a customized treatment plan for you to help heal and repair your gut.
While brain rehabilitation and optimizing brain health is a vital component
following a brain injury, looking at other potential health outcomes is important as
well. Re-strengthening the gut-brain connection may be a consideration for some
individuals who experience traumatic brain injury and should not be overlooked.

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