The 'Gut-Brain Connection'
Sept. 13 presentation at Bridgeway

Doreen Rasp, mental health nurse practitioner

By Laurie Gordon
NEWTON — The National Alliance for Mental Illness will present “The Gut-Brain Connection and Mental Health" on Sept. 13 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services in Newton.
The speaker will be Doreen Rasp. A registered nurse since 1995, she completed a master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from Rutgers University in 2009. In 2015, Rasp completed a post-master's certification as a mental health nurse practitioner from Wilkes University. She has specialized in primary care as well as gastroenterology. Her blended experience has led to her increasing awareness and interest in the connection between the brain and the gut.
“In the 10 years, as I have worked in family medicine, I have often come to realize that many complaints patients come in with are often multifaceted, including both physical and emotional components,” Rasp said. “The most interesting part is many do not even realize it themselves. When I became more involved in managing patients with gastrointestinal issues this fact became even more prominent.
“Now that I also work directly with patients suffering from a variety of mental health disorders, I see an even stronger connection. I think the biggest thing this has taught me as a provider is to treat holistically realizing how it is all connected.”
“My interest in the concept of how the brain and gut are connected, beyond just being two amazingly dynamic systems in the human body, is in realizing that not taking the time to understand how they interact and affect each other could be detrimental to a provider's overall goal in treating their patient,” she continued.
“For example, something as simple as how blood glucose levels can affect someone's mood. If a patient that suffers from anxiety often skips meals, or simply has poor eating habits [making bad choices, such as a carbohydrate-heavy diet], their blood sugars will be more variable, often dropping quickly. Simply stated, low blood sugars will contribute to and aggravate anxiety. Therefore, taking the time to advise your patients to not skip meals, as well to focus on balancing their meals, can help to improve their physical and mental health.”
“Improving gut health is key in maintaining and promoting optimum health within many systems of the body,” Rasp said. “There are different levels of what can be done to improve our gut health. Maintaining a relatively healthy and balanced diet is first. That can obviously be subjective. Some of the basic guidelines include staying well hydrated with water, maintaining adequate fiber, intake of lean fish and proteins, and minimizing simple carbohydrates and sugars. There is also significant discussion on improving our microbiome. The human microbiome is a combination of genetic materials and microorganisms living within our gut. It is often referenced as the largest symbiotic ecosystem within the human body. There are good and bad bacteria within each microbiome. There is tremendous research being done on the human microbiome to better understand it as well to identify what can be done to improve it. The concept of probiotics, and now even prebiotics, is part of the discussion.”
Rasp said that disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome are now being clearly identified as disorders of the brain-gut axis.
“The vagus nerve, which originates in the brain and settles within the gut, allows messages between the brain and the gut, therefore impacting and contributing to gut and brain issues, and is believed to contribute to IBS,” she said.
“The immune system is also directly impacted by the health and function of the gut. It is believed that greater than 70 percent of immune cells are found within the human gut-digestive tract,” Rasp said. “Keeping in mind what has been noted about the microbiome above, it makes sense how the immune system and our overall health is definitively impacted by the health of our gut [and our brain].”
Rasp said that there is tremendous continuing interest on this topic and that it is “much needed in order to help individuals realize their role and responsibilities in caring for and in maintaining their overall health.”
The program is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is not required. For further information, call NAMI Sussex at 973-214-0632 or email Bridgeway is located at 93 Stickles Pond Road in Newton.