The Adolescent Brain/Gut Connection

Dr Don Davis Articles, Dr Don's Dartboard, Fatigue and Depression, Gut, Stress and Anxiety 0 Comments

Nobody wants to see a child suffer. It doesn’t matter if he/she is a toddler or a young adult. The point is: it just shouldn’t happen. I know personally, the only thing I can’t watch in any movie is when a child is uncomfortable, stressed, or is left alone. Maybe It’s just me, because of some issue in my past, but I suspect that almost all of you reading this feel the same way. The utter dependence on those adults in control is a special circumstance in the world, one that isn’t replicated in any other domain.

Suffering doesn’t have to come from the hand of a care giver. I’m speaking here to the internal physical issues that affect children in a way that increases both physical and mental stress.

Adolescence is a time of particular physical and environmental strain and we now know that this has a direct effect on the bacterial content of the gut. This “microbiota” change then directly affects the brain, especially in the adolescent. In an article this week in the journal Neuroscience Biobehavior Review, the authors show that there are predictable effects on the brain, sometime leading to psychiatric illness. They rightly suggest that manipulating the gut bacteria by probiotics and prebiotics could be an effective way to prevent many of these psychological problems.

Another article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry suggests that these disorders are “influenced by intestinal dysbiosis”, or the balance between good and bad bacteria that is so common in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and state that “all the challenges faced by the developing teen have a documented impact on the intestinal commensal microbiota”. That’s quite a statement. We are finally realizing that “all” of the stress – both physical and mental – affect the intestinal bacteria, and those bacteria and their balance affect the brain.

It is no surprise that children on the autistic spectrum commonly have intestinal issues that not only include “Dysbiosis” and IBS, but the alteration other mal-digestion indicators like short chain fatty acids (FCFA’s), calprotectin and elastase. Like with other brain development problems, the intestinal microbes may be a much larger part of the solution than first suspected. I for one am grateful to live at the cusp of this new time of discovery that likely will resolve many of these unfortunate and “suffering” conditions.

Testing for these conditions is not difficult and can specifically direct the treatment of Pro and Pre-biotics toward the normalization of bacteria that are in altered ratios common in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I’ve seen this make big differences in my patients and hope your experience is the same. It’s the least we can to make adolescence a time of awakening without the pain.

Now I’d like to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment if you would like.


What’s bugging your teen?-The microbiota and adolescent mental health.
Neufeld KM1, et al. ***Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Jun 7. pii: S0149-7634(16)30131-2. doi:

Reframing the Teenage Wasteland: Adolescent Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis.
McVey Neufeld KA1, Can J Psychiatry. 2016 Apr;61(4):214-21. Epub 2016 Feb 24.

Altered brain-gut axis in autism: comorbidity or causative mechanisms?
Mayer EA1,  2014 Oct;36(10):933-9. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400075. Epub 2014 Aug 22.

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