What is the gut-brain axis?
If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when you are nervous, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: Your second brain.
The gut-brain axis is a term for the communication network that connects your gut and brain
In more technical terms, the gut-brain axis is the connection between the central and the enteric nervous system. This connection links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. There has been a lot more research into this over the past few years as we've become more intrigued between the connections between our mental health and out physical health. The advances made because of this research in research support the theory that the gut microbiota plays an important role in influencing the quality and connection of these influences.
These two organs are connected both physically and biochemically in a number of different ways. One of the direct ways is through the vagus nerve.
Vagus nerve? What is that?
Think of the vagus nerve as a direct information highway.
The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions, meaning that one can and will influence the other.
Your gut and brain are connected physically through millions of nerves, but most importantly the vagus nerve. The gut and its microbes also control inflammation and make many different compounds that can affect brain health.
We know millions of nerves and neurons run between your gut and brain.
By altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health.
Gut microbiome explained
Simple explanation: Your 'gut microbiome' is made up of the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that live in your intestinal tract.
These microorganisms, mainly bacteria, are involved in functions that are critical to your overall health and well-being.
How do you build a healthy Gut Microbiome?
Each person has an entirely unique network of microbiota that is originally determined by one’s DNA.
A person is first exposed to microorganisms as an infant, during delivery in the birth canal and through the mother’s breast milk. The species of bacteria is determined by the mother. Later on in life environmental exposures and diet can change one’s microbiome to be either beneficial or place one at greater risk for disease.
Long story short if your mother had compromised microbiome you are likely to right from the beginning.
Top 4 supports for a healthy gut-brain connection
1. Nutrients Dense Foods (The MIND Diet)
Eating a balanced diet can improve your overall health and boost your ability to cope with the condition. Eating plenty of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, lean protein, beans and legumes, and whole grains, and staying hydrated are key ways to stay energized and healthy overall. (More on MIND below.)
On top of regular physical activity and eating an antioxidant-rich diet, there’s some evidence that the following nutrients, when taken as supplements. Top choices Co-enzyme Q10, Vitamin D, Cucurmin and Vitamin C.
Although this is part of the MIND diet it’s important you are getting close to you daily intake of both soluble & insoluble fibres. Fiber helps keep things moving. There are plenty of high-fiber foods out there, so choose your favourites. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, and men should get 38 grams.
Yoga incorporates breathing exercises, aspects of meditation and movement all in one. This really is my number one go to. If you can handle the heat, hot yoga really adds some additional relaxation bringing your deeper into your parasympathetic nervous system (basically rest & digest).
What’s the difference between soluble and insoluble fibre?
Getting enough fibre is super key to your overall health. Supplements are easy to take and find, these are the two different types.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and other body fluids. When it does, it forms a gel-like material as it passes through.
Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in fluids. Instead, it absorbs them and sticks to other materials to form stools. This process leads to softer, bulkier — and more regular — stools.
A key to taking fibre supplements
More fibre requires more fluids! Inadequate fluid intake is a cause of constipation so, if you're upping your fibre to boost your bowel movements, then make sure you're drinking more water to go with it.
What is the MIND diet?
MIND stands for...
Mediterranean-Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
It's a combination of Mediterranean and DASH diets, with emphasis on foods that have specifically been linked to brain health.
In simple terms? It's a diet that focuses on foods that heal your gut and therefor your mind.
How do you know if there’s something wrong with your gut?
Have you ever felt like your stomach was tied in knots? Or had a nagging feeling in your gut that something was just not right? If so, you're not alone.
Did you grow up in a stressful environment? Do you suffer from anxiety or depression?
The gut and the brain are intimately connected. The brain sends signals to the stomach through nerves in the gut wall, and vice versa. The stomach can send signals to the brain when it senses something is amiss — for example, when food is ingested. And when your brain is sending signals to your gut, those signals can cause symptoms of anxiety or depression.
So how does this connection work?
When we eat or drink something, or even just think about eating or drinking something, our body releases hormones that tell us it's time to digest food — even if we don't have any food yet! This response prepares us to digest what's coming our way by activating certain muscles to help us move food through our digestive tract.
It's also possible for stress and anxiety to affect how well we digest our food (or how much). When we're stressed or anxious about something, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol—and cortisol affects the way we digest food. If cortisol levels are too high for too long, then all kinds of problems can occur—including digestive distress such as diarrhea or constipation.
Do a body scan daily. You will know right away if something is wrong. If stress levels are high it’s almost a guarantee that your digestion and gut microbiome is compromised.
How is the Nerous System Involved?
It's interesting to think about the connections between the brain, gut and nervous system when considering digestion, stress, anxiety and depression.
Research has shown that the health of our gut can have an impact on our mental health and emotional well-being. For example, a healthy gut flora balance may help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Additionally, certain hormones and neurotransmitters that are produced in the gut, such as serotonin, can affect our mood and emotional state.
Finally, research has shown a link between the gut microbiome and the brain, which could further explain the connection between digestion and mental health.
All in all, it's clear that the intricate connections between the brain, gut and nervous system play a role in digestion, stress, anxiety and depression.