Clostridia and The Gut-Brain Axis
Have you ever gotten food poisoning? If so, you might have been infected by two different types of clostridium: C. perfringens and C. botulinum (Woeller, 2015b). Clostridium is a group of 80+ bacteria that could have potentially harmful effects on your body as they reside in your digestive system (Woeller, 2015b).
But did you know that these bugs can also interfere with your dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine metabolism?
You might have heard of the most popular type of clostridia, called C. difficile or C. diff. C. difficile normally resides in people who are taking antibiotics or have been hospitalized (“C. difficile,” 2016). But new studies show that you can get C. diff from being in contact with someone who has this bacteria or by not washing your hands well enough after defecating (“C. difficile,” 2016). A mild to moderate infection of this particular bacteria results in symptoms such as watery diarrhea a few times a day to mild cramping and tenderness in your abdominal area (“C. difficile,” 2016).
But there are other symptoms from clostridium that are more worrisome than diarrhea and cramping. Clostridium can be linked to autism, schizophrenia, and other neuropsychiatric disorders (Shaw, 2018 & Woeller, 2015b).
Clostridium and the Dopamine Snafu
Clostridium can cause an excess level of dopamine within the body. It does this by blocking your body’s ability to convert dopamine into epinephrine (epi) and norepinephrine (norepi), resulting in HIGH dopamine and LOW epi and norepi.
What are the symptoms of high dopamine?
- Hedonism (pleasure-seeking behaviors)
- Excessive sociability
- Intense excitement
- Extreme mood swings
- Emotional eating
- Autistic behaviors
What are the symptoms of low epinephrine/ norepinephrine?
- Impaired emotional regulation
- Poor concentration/ focus/ memory
- Brain fog
- Daytime fatigue
How does Clostridia Interfere with Dopamine and Epinephrine/ Norepinephrine Levels?
Clostridia does this in several different ways. Let’s discuss these in more detail:
- Difficile converts L-tyrosine into a toxic metabolite called 4-Crestol. The 4-Crestol then inhibits the conversion of dopamine into epinephrine. This results in low epinephrine.
- Clostridia releases 3-hydroxyphenyl-3-hydroxypropionic acid (HPHPA). High concentrations of HPHPA inhibit dopamine beta-hydroxylase which inhibits the metabolism of dopamine to epinephrine. This results in the individual not making enough norepinephrine and adrenaline and won’t be able to respond to stress.
How Do We Measure Dopamine Since it Can’t Cross the Blood-Brain Barrier?
Just like you can not (well maybe you can, but you shouldn’t) drive your Subaru into your doctor’s office, dopamine from your central nervous system can not cross the blood-brain barrier into the peripheral nervous system. But you can theoretically bring in parts of your Subaru through the doorway. The hood ornament, bumper, and even battery. Similarly, once dopamine is broken down, metabolites of dopamine are able to cross through the blood-brain barrier. These metabolites are what we measure when assessing for dopamine levels, particularly Homovanillic acid (HVA).
Clostridia, Dopamine, and Autism
We have established that infection with Clostridia can impact dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine levels. Let’s talk about how this manifests in psychiatric illnesses in particular.
Research has shown that Clostridia had high concentrations in the urine of children with autism; the severity of the autism was directly related to a higher concentration of HVA in the urine as well (Shaw, 2018). There are also dopamine metabolites, 3-(3-hydroxyphenl)-3-hydroxypropionic acid (HPHPA) and 4-cresol, that have high levels within the urine of both autism and schizophrenia (Shaw, 2018).
An enzyme called dopamine beta-hydroxylase is responsible for changing dopamine into norepinephrine (Shaw, 2018). Children who had autism had lower levels of this enzyme which is drastic for physiological conditions as an excess level of dopamine with low levels of norepinephrine makes the dopamine try to compensate for the lack of norepinephrine (Shaw, 2018). This compensation could possibly cause permanent brain, adrenal glands, and sympathetic nervous system damage if this goes on for a long period of time as it creates free radical damage (Shaw, 2018). This compensation can also cause “obsessive, compulsive, stereotypical behaviors” as well as “reduced exploratory behavior and learning in novel environments” (Shaw, 2018).
Clostridia, Dopamine, and Schizophrenia (and Schizophrenia-Like-Behaviors)
Clostridium may also play a role in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders as these conditions are often associated with high dopamine levels (Shaw, 2018). Chronic excess dopamine in combination with low norepinephrine can cause severe neurodegeneration in the pathways that dopamine flows through causing abnormal mood and behavioral changes we often see associated with autism and schizophrenia (Shaw, 2018).
Testing for Dopamine Levels
The good news is that we can get to the root cause of neuropsychiatric illnesses through appropriate and individualized testing. The Organic Acid Test (OAT) will examine your urine and assess for clostridia metabolites and measure dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine levels.
- Clostridia may cause gastrointestinal symptoms AND psychiatric symptoms
- Clostridia interfere with dopamine metabolism
- Clostridia is associated with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, AD(H)D, and other mood disorders.
- Treating a clostridia infection may be the solution to your mental health concerns
- Clostridia infections may be tested easily in an at-home-urine test.
Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.