Have you ever experienced what most call a “gut feeling” or have had “butterflies” in your stomach? These sensations radiating from your belly suggest that your brain and gut are connected. What’s more exciting is that recent studies have shown the gut has been called a "second brain" because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, all of which play a key role in regulating mood. Let’s dive deeper and explore further how gut health affects your brain health, what causes disruptions, and how to combat those disturbances.
The gut-brain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain. Millions of nerves and neurons run between your gut and brain. Neurotransmitters and other chemicals produced in your gut also affect your brain.
The gut-brain axis essentially is a two-way connection and communication between the gut and the brain. What is happening in the gut can directly influence our brain function and behavior. An imbalance within the microbiome (which is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses that naturally live on our bodies and inside us) and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, which are very common in society today.
There are three main pathways that formulate the gut-brain axis: nerves, neuroendocrine system, and immune system.
Nerves connect to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and allow communication signals to flow between the gut and the brain. The vagus nerve acts as the major communication line to the gut and it is affected by movement of your GI tract, as well as the activity of your gut microbes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Vagus nerve activity has been linked to mood regulation. The enteric nervous system, which is a network of nerves found throughout the walls of your GI tract, also plays a key role in gut-brain communication. The bacteria in your gut also make molecules that like short-chain fatty acids and neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transfer impulses from nerve fibers. The activity of certain neurotransmitters affects areas of the brain, which can in turn, affect our mood and behavior.
Your gut microbes also affect the production of hormones involved in the stress response, metabolism, and mood. Gut bacteria also make short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by breaking down fiber. SCFAs help your body by fighting off inflammation. Many mental health disorders have been linked to high levels of inflammation within the body.
As we mentioned, the microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us. Your gut microbiome is an important part of the protective mucus layer within your gut. Having a decrease of healthy bacteria can lead to a weaker mucus layer in the GI tract, which makes it easier for inflammatory molecules to pass through. This can contribute to higher levels of inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.
If someone is suffering from gastrointestinal problems and symptoms, and they’re also finding that they have different problems with focus and memory and cognitive issues – then the Gut-Brain Axis is affected. And when the Gut-Brain Axis is affected, it can not only cause psychiatric disorders, psychological disorders – it can also affect your mood, it can affect your memory, it can affect the amount of brain energy you have on a daily basis. Let’s go ahead and talk about some of the different symptoms that would indicate that you have this issue going on:
Now, looking at problems like Stress, Anxiety, Parkinson’s, Bi-Polar Disorder, Memory issues, Focus issues, Schizophrenia, Autism, all these different disorders are being linked to gut conditions. Whether it’s a deficiency in a certain strain of bacteria, an increase of inflammation, or there’s pathogens or parasites in the gut. When we go in and start actually removing some of these issues, we’re finding that these problems are starting to reverse themselves, clinically.
When we have gut and microbiome imbalances, it takes more than just wishful thinking to reverse these issues. We’ve found that taking clinically-relevant doses of specific nutrients allows the body to heal and recover at a more rapid rate. Who wouldn’t want that?! Some amazing options to consider are:
An imbalance within the microbiome and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, but by altering the types of bacteria in your gut it’s possible to improve your overall brain health. Taking steps to heal our gut and thereby improving our brain health is a powerful and effective way to maximize our whole body health. If you are looking for more one-on-one assistance with balancing your gut and brain, consider working with a holistic practitioner.