Gut-Brain Connection

Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach before a big event? Or made a decision based on your gut feeling? Or perhaps you have had an experience that you describe as  “Gut wrenching”.  All these phrases are not just metaphorical. In all these situations we are receiving signals from what is widely known as “second Brain”. Hiding deep in our digestive system this brain is our GUT. 

Scientists call it the Enteric Nervous System. It consists of 500 million neurons, lining our gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to our rectum. The research focussing on interaction of brain and Gut is providing different perspectives in healing of various diseases. Though the brain and Gut may seem far apart in our body to communicate, they are connected by what is called Gut-Brain Axis. This bidirectional interaction is set up by special nerve cells and immune pathways. There are some familiar examples of this communication. Like, the central nervous system is triggered when people get into “Fight or Flight response mode”. During this state the digestion is slowed down or stopped so the body’s energy could be diverted to the situation causing the threat. Similarly 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the digestive tract. Serotonin is believed to regulate emotion, memory, mood, sleep and social behavior.

There are millions of bacteria that live in our gut and work towards making our body healthy. These bacteria are collectively called as Microbiome, which help in digesting the food, extracting nutrients, producing immune molecules which help in fighting inflammation and healing wounds.

Recent studies have found the role of microbiome in the healthy Brain. A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. High richness and diversity of the microbes in the gut provides for a stronger stable immune system. Changes in composition of healthy Gut bacteria has been seen in people with inflammatory diseases, autism and blood cancers. Recent studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have a unique and less diverse Gut microbiome than their healthy counterparts. There has been increase and decrease in specific gut bacteria, especially decline in Bifidobacterium, an important dweller of healthy Gut. Such findings in the human and mouse models have opened the prospects of preventing or slowing Alzheimer’s disease in at-risk populations by maintaining and developing healthy gut. Gut dysbiosis is also linked to difficulty in learning and memory.

Some microbiome also affect how brain chemicals are metabolized and thus determine how much of it is available for activity in blood circulation. One such chemical Butyrate has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. This interaction between the brain and gastrointestinal tract takes through the Vagus Nerve. Vagus Nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting our Gut and brain.

So it becomes our priority that we maintain a healthy Gut. Some of the signs that we may  have an unhealthy Gut includes constant gas or bloating, frequent diarrhea, constipation, mood disorders, skin inflammation and acne, sugar craving, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease, difficulty in concentration and obesity.

Now the big question arises in how we can fix our Gut. Below are some of the things that we do  to improve our Gut health.

  1. Take Probiotic and Fermented Food: Probiotic is made of good bacteria that keeps our Gut healthy and also fights the bad bacteria. Eating fermented food is also a good source for getting these probiotics in our diet. Kimchi, Yogurt, Miso, kombucha and kefir are natural sources of probiotics.  Some research has suggested that taking probiotics can actually prevent gut inflammation and intestinal issues. So it is important to go ahead and include probiotics in our diet. 
  2. Include Prebiotic Food: Prebiotics are like fertilizers that help in growth of healthy Gut bacteria. These are not digestible by our body, so they pass through our digestive system to become food for probiotics. This process encourages the healthy bacteria to multiply. Some of the prebiotic foods are asparagus, bananas, garlic, onion, jerusalem artichokes, whole grains, Chicory. There are also some really healthy microbiome foods available which have high quality herbs in it.
  3. Eliminate Sugar: We all know to an extent that too much sugar or artificial sugar is not good for our health. A diet high in sugar deprives the food that good bacteria need to survive and causes imbalance  and reduces the diversity of Gut bacteria. Research has also shown that artificial sweeteners impact blood glucose level due to its impact on Gut bacteria. Which means they increase blood sugar despite actually not being sugar.
  4. Exercise: A study published in 2018 found that doing regular exercise brings healthy change in gut microbiome and also increases diversity in the Gut bacteria irrespective of the diet and body-composition of the people. It is a fairly new understanding and the direct understanding of this connection is underway.
  5. Stress: Stress is the underlying reason for many health issues that we face. People develop gastrointestinal issues because of various reasons, however stress is being considered an important one. The relation between Gut and stress is complex and bidirectional. It has been shown that stress affects the brain- gut communication which can set off pain, bloating, and other gut related issues. It also brings change in the Gut microbiome which in turn influences our mood. Managing stress is thus a very important requirement for a healthy body and mind.
  6. Cleaning Supplies: It is high time that we study the label. The toxic ingredients in the cleaning supplies are shown to impact our Gut health. Research published in 2018 studied the Gut bacteria of infants aged 3-4 months. It was found that the houses that use disinfectant cleaning supplies twice a week were found to have a particular type of gut bacteria which is associated with obesity and type-2 diabetes.Therefore it is important to make a shift to environmentally friendly supplies.
  7. Antibiotics: Antibiotics do not discriminate, they are used to fight the bacterial infection and that’s what they do and in the process also disbalancing our gut flora. We should avoid taking the antibiotics unnecessarily.

Summary

Maintaining a healthy Gut health is important for holistic health improvement. Simple changes in the lifestyle can improve and diversify our Gut bacteria community. However any change in diet and including of supplements must be consulted with the doctor.

Be Healthy!

 

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