The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

Gut-Brain Connection

Got a “gut-feeling”?  It’s more than just an old wives’ tale.  There’s research now that shows a direct connection between your gut and your brain and that you’ve even got a “second brain” in the gut.

 If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

And with new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no longer a wonder that what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection.”

It’s incredibly complex and there seems to be multiple things going on.  Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • the huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

Let’s dive a little deeper.

Vagus nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!  There’s that old “gut-feeling”!

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Did you know that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?  How amazing is that?

 And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

After all, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is made in your gut, not in your brain!  So if you’re feeling a bit down, think about what you’re eating.

The immune system of the gut

 Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut that they don’t like, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.  And you already know that inflammation is the precursor to many diseases.

Gut microbes

These are your friendly neighbourhood gut residents, or sometimes, not so friendly. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And providing you’re feeding them right so you have a higher balance of the good guys, they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

More and more evidence is emerging though, to show that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fibre and omega-3 fats. Fibre (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

References:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them