THE BRAIN AND THE GUT – It’s a two-way street.
Did you know that your gut has its own brain? It is called the enteric nervous system consisting of a bundle of neurons found in the lining of gut.
Like the brain, it has its own set of neurotransmitters for sending messages between nerve cells, and it has the ability to learn and remember.
The brain and the enteric nervous system are quite separate entities connected by a long nerve “cable” known as the vagus nerve. These two systems are in constant communication. So in effect we have 2 nervous systems:
- The Central Nervous System (CNS) which includes the brain and spinal cord
- The Enteric Nervous System which includes the gastrointestinal tract.
So Who is Driving This Bus? The Brain AND the Gut?
We know the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why some emotions like stress can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. The latest research now proves that signals travel the opposite way as well – from the gut to the brain. In fact your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut. We all know about having ‘gut feelings’ like butterflies in the stomach when a stressful situation is looming or you have to make a speech in front of several hundred people. This is more than a metaphor of course and if what is going on in your brain can affect your stomach (the enteric nervous system) then what is happening in your gut can have a direct impact on the brain. So who is really driving this bus?
With this knowledge we are more aware than ever before of the importance of a healthy digestive system full of beneficial bacteria. Good bacteria are responsible for making vitamins, they also help to maintain a normal balance of bacteria in the stomach. A healthy balanced digestive system sends positive feedback to the brain. Not many people realize that your gut actually produces more serotonin – which is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter than your brain. It is getting the balance of good and bad bacteria right, that is the foundation for good health.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts and are found in foods like live-cultured yogurt, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and miso soup. It is these organisms that science has now proven to be of great benefit in gaining and maintaining a healthy digestive system. But added to that they have found that enough of these good micro-organisms will also promote and support our immune system. We have trillions of bacteria living within our digestive tract both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Eating foods rich in probiotics or ‘good’ bacteria helps provide a healthy balance between the two. Too much of the ‘bad’ bacteria can potentially lead to developing issues like anxiety, depression and more. This is why the link between the brain and the gut is so important. Our gut deals with many foreign substances every day in the foods we eat so we need a major line of defense against potentially harmful pathogens.
An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut will surely interfere with healthy brain function and disrupt communication between the brain and the gut and the rest of the body. More and more research is being done on gut bacteria in mental health and behavior. Other research has shown the microbiome also impacts:
- The Immune System
You can imagine then how our diet and lifestyle affects these vulnerable gut bacteria. Eating lots of refined sugar, refined grains and processed foods will impact your healthy gut bacteria to the point of destroying them and end up feeding the bad bacteria and yeast. You then leave yourself open to any number of uncomfortable and sometimes life threatening diseases like constipation, diarrhea, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome and the list goes on.
PROTECT AGAINST DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Protect your health by protecting your intestinal tract with probiotics foods that promote and feed the good bacteria in your gut. This is important so you can maintain a healthy system, free from disease -constipation, bloating and gas but also from the onset of depression and anxiety attacks. The secret here to improve your mood and your health, as harmful bacteria will impact your mental health leading to issues with depressions and anxiety.
Although raw honey has many healing properties you must remember to limit the amount of sugar you eat because sugar will feed the ‘bad’ bacteria to the detriment of the ‘good’ bacteria. And honey is sugar. Eat foods containing probiotics like some traditionally fermented vegetables during the week and take a probiotic supplement each day to help maintain a healthy gut. This will optimize your gut flora and subsequently support your brain health. By doing this your are at least half way there to helping yourself to stay away from fatigue, depression and anxiety. Avoiding stressful situations isn’t always possible but protect yourself whenever you can.
THE BRAIN AND THE GUT ARE INEXTRICABLY LINKED.
As reported by UCLA:
“Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.
‘Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,’ [Dr. Kirsten] Tillisch said. ‘Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.
There is now convincing evidence of direct connections between the gut, and the brain. For example, recent scientific studies in humans show that negative emotions (sadness, fear, and anger) are often associated with the development of acute gastrointestinal infections. Conversely, chronic GI inflammation can have many effects on mood, including symptoms of depression and fatigue. Irritable bowel syndrome has been linked to stressful life situations like depression and anxiety.
Because of this two-way connection, more attention needs to be placed on the types of bacteria, yeasts and parasites present in the gut when diagnosing diseases normally associated with the brain. Science has proved how important it is to have a good balance of bacteria in the gut. We can help support our good gut bacteria by eating probiotics foods and taking probiotics supplements. This will go someway to supporting our immune system in addressing some of the most common diseases today. i.e.
- irritable bowel syndrome
SUPPORT THE BRAIN AND THE GUT
Taking care to support the gut must be accompanied by attention to lifestyle. Stress is a major contributing factor to depression and anxiety which have now been linked to gastrointestinal problems. So taking probiotics is not the complete answer and must be accompanied by a healthy diet with wholesome foods and a stress-free lifestyle.