The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is launching a study to see whether Streptococcus bacteria, which cause strep throat, scarlet fever, and other infections such as pneumonia, may also be responsible for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children.1
According to NIMH statistics, OCD affects approximately one percent of American adults.2
People with OCD are beset with anxious persistent thoughts (obsessions), or feel compelled to perform certain rituals like hand washing or repeatedly checking things (compulsions).
For many people, the condition begins during childhood or the teen years. The Streptococcus bacteria create proteins that mimic human proteins, thereby evading your immune system. Once your immune system identifies them as "foreign invaders," it begins creating antibodies.
However, these antibodies can also attack human tissues such as your heart, joints, and brain.
Several years ago, evidence emerged suggesting that this attack on the brain can inflame brain structures, which possibly could trigger OCD (or OCD-like symptoms) in children. The NIMH now exploring what causes OCD, and will work on finding a treatment that might help reverse the syndrome.
According to the featured report in New Scientist,3 the Institute intends to find out whether an antibody treatment used to reduce autoimmune reactions might be beneficial.
The Gut-Brain Connection
From a proactive perspective, it's important to realize that you have the potential to take control over your health, including your mental or psychiatric health.
Psychiatric conditions such as OCD are primarily believed to be the result of chemical dysfunction in your brain, or in some cases hereditary and therefore out of your control. Many fail to realize that a) your lifestyle can override genetic predispositions, and b) your lifestyle can be a major underlying cause of that chemical imbalance or dysfunction.
So, there's plenty of reason to take a closer look at lifestyle factors such as diet and toxic exposures—whether you want to prevent a health condition, or treat it.
Some may object and say that a child hasn't had enough time to develop bad lifestyle habits, but when it comes to health problems related to the brain, the GUT is typically involved, and children are now increasingly BORN with damaged gut flora—courtesy of less than ideal lifestyle choices by the child's mother...
In a very real sense, you have two brains: one inside your skull and one in your gut.
While they may seem very different, these two organs are actually created out of the same type of tissue. During fetal development, one part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system.
Your vagus nerve—the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen—connects these two organs together. Your gut actually produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin—thought to play an important role in OCD, in addition to having a beneficial influence on your mood in general—than your brain does, so optimizing your gut flora may indeed have tremendous benefit for your psychological health. And there's plenty of evidence to suggest that this needs to begin from birth, or even, ideally, before birth.
Can You Reverse Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders with... Bacteria?
Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the beneficial bacteria found in traditionally fermented foods (or a probiotic supplement) is extremely important for proper brain function, and that includes psychological well-being and mood control. The reason I am more fond of using fermented foods as a source of beneficial bacteria is LEVERAGE. You can typically consume more than 100 times the amount you would in typical serving of oral probiotics. You can get many trillions of bacteria instead of billions.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has successfully demonstrated the power and effectiveness of this theory. In her Cambridge, England clinic, she treats children and adults with a range of conditions, including autism, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, immune disorders, and digestive problems using the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Nutritional Program, which she developed.
Her GAPS theory is an elegant description of how such conditions can develop as a direct result of gastrointestinal toxicity. How might your gut turn into a source of toxicity rather than nourishment? Many aspects of our modern lifestyle contribute to destroying your all-important gut flora, including:
Antibiotics; both from prescription antibiotics, and from consuming antibiotic-laden foods like non-organic meat, chicken, and milk from cows raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations Processed foods. Not only are processed foods void of "live" beneficial bacteria to begin with, the high sugar and grain content serve as fuel for the growth of pathogenic anaerobic bacteria, fungi, and yeast, which competitively inhibit your good bacteria Genetically engineered foods Aspartame, which inactivates digestive enzymes and alters gut barrier function, has been found to destroy up to 50 percent of your beneficial gut flora Chlorinated and/or fluoridated4water Agricultural chemicals and pollution Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
Pathogenic microbes can damage the integrity of your gut wall, and once your beneficial gut flora has been crowded out by pathogenic microbes inside your digestive tract, toxins and microbes can reach your bloodstream. And once they're in your bloodstream, they can reach your brain... Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) may manifest as symptoms that can fit the diagnosis of a wide range of conditions and syndromes, including:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder Autism Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity Dyslexia Dyspraxia
Fermented Foods to the Rescue
Needless to say, the importance of 'reseeding' your gut with health-promoting, beneficial bacteria from fermented foods (and probiotics when you're taking an antibiotic) cannot be overstated. If you don't' eat fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you're eating a lot of processed foods. Dr. Campbell-McBride's GAPS Nutritional Protocol (which is detailed in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome), heavily promotes the consumption of traditionally fermented foods, such as:
In the following interview, Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), discusses the process of fermenting your own vegetables. She's been involved with nutrition for about 20 years, and is now one of Dr. Campbell-McBride's chief training partners, helping people understand the food preparation process.
- Cultured vegetables (including pureed baby foods)
- Condiments, such as salsa and mayonnaise
- Cultured dairy, such as yoghurt, kefir, and sour cream
- Fish, such as mackerel and Swedish gravlax
Fermenting Your Own Foods is Easier than You Might Think!
According to Caroline, most people are intimidated by the thought of fermenting their own foods, and worry that the culturing process might lead to some horrific pathogenic infection. But such fears are undeserved. Getting it right is actually easier than you might think. Caroline addresses this and other concerns in her article "Taking the Mystery out of Culturing Your Own Superfoods."5 Clearly, educating yourself about the process will help alleviate concerns about eating fermented foods, which are very much "alive."
However, remember that the culturing process produces beneficial microbes that are extremely important for your health. They help balance your intestinal flora, thereby boosting overall immunity.
Another important aspect of fermented foods is their detoxing ability. Fermented foods are actually some of the best chelators available, and can help rid your body of a wide variety of toxins, including heavy metals. This is another reason why the GAPS Nutritional Protocol so effective.
Those of you who are still unaccustomed to the taste of fermented foods may be pleased to learn that you don't need to consume very large amounts in order to reap the benefits. Caroline recommends eating about a quarter to half a cup (2 to 4 oz) of fermented vegetables or other cultured food, such as raw yoghurt, with one to three meals per day. I personally consume about 8 ounces nearly every day as I believe they are one of the healthiest superfoods that I eat.
Bear in mind that due to their detoxifying effect, you could experience detox symptoms, or a "healing crisis," if you introduce too many cultured foods all at once. Caroline recommends beginning with very small servings and working your way up to the quarter- to half cup serving size. This way your intestinal microflora has the chance to adjust.
Culturing Your Own Vegetables in Six Simple Steps
Wild fermentation allows whatever is on the vegetable or fruit that you're culturing to naturally take hold and culture the food. The drawback of this method is that it's very time consuming. Most people prefer inoculating the food with some type of starter culture, which will significantly speed up the fermentation process. Also, while you can use a crock pot, Caroline recommends culturing your veggies directly in the glass Mason jars, which eliminates the need for a crock pot and eliminates a transfer step in the process.
This also allows you to make smaller batches, and it eliminates the presence of wild yeasts that can occur when using a crock. These yeasts tend to give the food a cheesy flavor, which many find unpalatable. Here's a quick summary of Caroline's recipe for how to make your own fermented veggies. For more information, please listen to the interview above, or read through the transcript:
Last but not least, resist the temptation to eat out of the jar, as organisms from your mouth can be introduced into the jar this way. Instead, always use a clean spoon to take out what you're going to eat, then, making sure the remaining veggies are covered with the brine solution, recap the jar.
- Shred and cut your chosen veggies
- Juice some celery. This is used as the brine, as it contains natural sodium and keeps the vegetables anaerobic. This eliminates the need for sea salt, which prevents growth of pathogenic bacteria
- Pack the veggies and celery juice along with the inoculants (starter culture, such as kefir grains, whey, or commercial starter powder all of which can be used for vegetables) into a 32 ounce wide-mouthed canning jar. A kraut pounder tool can be helpful to pack the jar and eliminate any air pockets
- Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Make sure the veggies are completely covered with celery juice and that the juice is all the way to the top of the jar to eliminate trapped air
- Seal the jar and store in a warm, slightly moist place for 24 to 96 hours, depending on the food being cultured. Ideal temperature range is 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit; 85 degrees max, as heat will kill the microbes
- When done, store in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process
While culturing your own foods is rather easy, especially once you get the hang of it, if you don't have the time or inclination to ferment your own, but understand and appreciate the value of them, Caroline has a company that sells fermented vegetables. I used hers for a month before I started making my own. So, if you just want to put your toe in the water and see if you like them, you can order a jar or two and try them out. You can find her products on www.CulturedVegetables.net or www.CulturedNutrition.com.