Treat the Whole in the Middle

Naturopathic physicians have long known that the digestion, stress, gut microflora and the immune system are all connected, and play a role in stress-induced disease. An elder pioneer of naturopathic medicine, Dr. Harold Dick, repeatedly taught his patients and peers to “treat the hole in the middle” – i.e. fix digestion and overall health will improve. A recently published study may finally validate and explain this connection a bit more.

Michael Bailey, an immunologist at Ohio State University, found that exposing mice to stress affects bacterial populations in their digestive system. Some strains of bacteria were increased (Clostridium) while other strains decreased (Bacteriodes). This change in bacterial population, in turn, triggered immune signals called cytokines. These cytokines are overproduced with stress. Cytokines cause inflammation and swelling in tissues.

The significance of this study finally shows how stress leads to inflammation and illness, and it also reveals how our gut bugs (also called microflora) are a key step in causing the inflammation. Treating the gut really does treat the whole person.

This explains what we see in clinical practice. We find that by balancing the gut bugs, people often see a change in inflammatory symptoms such as eczema, asthma, joint pain, and headaches. Furthermore, we also see that to fix the gut population more permanently, we must examine the stress and environmental factors that allow the microflora to fluctuate in the first place.

Reference: Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Volume 25, Issue 3, March 2011, Pages 397-407