It comes as no surprise that a brain injury can have major effects on other areas of your body, but new research suggests that traumatic brain injuries may be linked to intestinal damage. Researchers say brain trauma can lead to changes in the intestinal system, which may leave a person at a higher risk for infection.
The findings were reported by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who were taking a closer look at the total effects of traumatic brain injuries in mice. Researchers induced a TBI-like head injury in mice and examined changes that took place in the intestinal system. They found that a TBI was associated with changes in the intestinal wall of the colon, which became more permeable after trauma. These changes took place over the course of a month after the injury.
Researchers were able to identify that traumatic brain injuries could lead problematic changes in the intestinal tract, but they also found that intestinal problems could cause issues in the brain. They also infected mice with a bacteria known as Citrobacter rodentium, which is the species equivalent of E. coli in humans. The findings show that mice who had a TBI and were infected with this bacteria had increased brain inflammation and lost more neurons in the memory region of the brain compared to mice infected with the bacteria without a TBI.
“These results indicate strong two-way interactions between the brain and the gut that may help explain the increased incidence of systemic infections after brain trauma and allow new treatment approaches,” said the lead researcher, Alan Faden, MD, the David S. Brown Professor in Trauma in the Departments of Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at UMSOM, and director of the UMSOM Shock, Trauma and Anesthesiology Research Center.
The findings are in line with previous findings on the subject. Previous research uncovered a link between TBI and changes in the gastrointestinal tract, but this is the first study to determine that the colon becomes susceptible to changes that could lead to infection. Interestingly, health records show that a person is 12 times more likely to die of blood poisoning after a TBI, which is often caused by bacteria, and 2.5 times more likely to die of a digestive system problem compared to someone without a TBI.
“These results really underscore the importance of bi-directional gut-brain communication on the long-term effects of TBI,” said Dr. Faden.
Doctors and patients can both benefit from understanding the potential link between TBIs and digestive tract changes so that they can prevent against certain dangers after a severe head injury. It’s also worth bringing to the attention of your neurologist that you have a previous intestinal issue or condition if you’ve recently suffered a severe head injury.