The Gut-Brain Connection
Have you ever felt ‘butterflies’ in your stomach or had digestive upset after an emotional event?
The gut-brain connection can help to explain why we experience digestive changes in response to an emotional episode.
What exactly is the “gut-brain connection”?
Well, it’s very complex and we’re still learning about it!
There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:
- The extensive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
- The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
- The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body
- 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; and
- The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
This is complex and amazing.
I’ll briefly touch on these areas and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
I knew you would!
And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”
And, if you think about it, 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 is made in your gut, not in your brain!
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!
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, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
But more and more evidence is showing 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 fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (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.
Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats (Serves 2)
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
- 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 banana, sliced
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts
- Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
- Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
- Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.
Dr. Anna ND
- Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
- Fix your gut, fix your health. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health
- The Brain-Gut Connection. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
- All about probiotics: How to get them from both food and supplements.. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics
- Your Gut Bugs, What They Eat and 7 Ways to Feed Them. http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them