Now some of you clever clogs may already know this….me, not so much. For both being a clever clogs and not knowing this.
So if you do know there is a connection between our brain and our gut, well done, but read on as you may still learn something.
For those that didn’t know about this, don’t feel bad, you’re in good company 🙂
Anyway, I only found this out recently whilst researching mental health and I had to read it twice if I’m being honest. “As if your brain is linked to your gut!” I said, really loud…in my head. But its true and it all kinda makes sense really.
So I’m going to look at:
- How your gut-brain connection can affect your mental health
- How your brain links to your gut
- How your gut links to your brain
- What you can do to help yourself
How your gut-brain connection can affect your mental health
First of all I want to bring your attention to some things that made me go “ahhhhh, that makes sense now!”
Have you ever heard or used the sayings…”Oh I just had a feeling in my gut!” “This situation made me feel sick!” “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach!” I certainly have.
It turns out there is a connection between your gut and your brain called the gut-brain axis. Basically your gut can feel emotions, who knew?!
But joking aside, what this means is that whats going on in your head, such as anxiety, can cause physical pain in your gut, through things like inflammation or make you susceptible to infection. And vice versa. People with gut problems can suffer mentally due to chemicals produced in the gut.
How your brain links to your gut
This is where it all gets a bit scientific so bear with me, hopefully I’ll be able to explain this in a way that you and I will understand…and that is also correct 🙂
So your brain has cells in it called neurons – now I’ve heard of those before. You also have neurons in your central nervous system. These neurons basically tell your body how to behave.
Now the brain has about 100 billion neurons, and get this, your gut has about 500 million! So they are connected through nerves, the main bad boy being the vagus nerve. I’ve heard of that before but wouldn’t have been able to say what it does. And signals go both down and up!
They are also connected through these little rascals called neurotransmitters. (That just took me about 4 goes to spell it right 🙂 ) And these neurotransmitters (copy and paste) are chemicals. Chemicals like……wait for it…..SEROTONIN, the make you feel happy chemical! And get this, the gut produces about 70% of the serotonin in your body!
So that is how your brain links to your gut. Hopefully you’re still with me? 🙂
How your gut links to your brain
OK, so your brain links to your gut using neurons and the bad ass vegus nerve. Don’t know why I’m trying to make the vegus nerve sound cool but stick with me!
Right then, your gut connects to the brain, because it doesn’t just produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, oh no my friend, it also produces lots of others.
Now I knew this next bit from all those adverts on the tele, your gut has trillions of microbes that all those little drinks you can buy help. Next bit I didn’t know. The microbes in your gut also produce a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and this helps control feelings like fear and anxiety.
The gut microbes also produce several others that I wont try and spell, but these ones affect brain functions.
Get this one…The gut and the gut microbes play important roles with your nervous system, by controlling what is passed through your body and what your body gets rid of. And if your immune system is switched on for too long, it can lead to inflammation which is associated with brain disorders like…….I feel like a drum roll is in order…..depression and Alzheimer’s disease!
So your gut, it’s microbes and it’s neurotransmitters directly affect your brain!!!
What you can do to help yourself
Well, it makes sense that if your gut microbes produce chemicals that affect the health of your brain, then making sure you have the good microbes in a healthy gut, must be a good thing right?
Well it’s apparently probiotics that you’re after and I’ve definitely heard of them. The probiotics that help your brain are also called psychobiotics. If you’re like me you’re picturing them running round your gut with knives and axes 🙂 Some of these have been shown in studies to help with stress, anxiety and depression.
Another study showed that by taking a prebiotic called – now this is a good one, who comes up with these names – galactooligosaccharides, for 3 weeks, significantly reduced the amount of stress hormone in the body, called cortisol!
Here are some of the most important foods to help your brain-gut axis, from the website healthline.com :
- Omega-3 fats: These fats are found in oily fish and also in high quantities in the human brain. Studies in humans and animals show that omega-3s can increase good bacteria in the gut and reduce risk of brain disorders
- High-fiber foods: Whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables all contain prebiotic fibers that are good for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics can reduce stress hormone in humans
- Polyphenol-rich foods: Cocoa, green tea, olive oil and coffee all contain polyphenols, which are plant chemicals that are digested by your gut bacteria. Polyphenols increase healthy gut bacteria and may improve cognition
- Tryptophan-rich foods: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Foods that are high in tryptophan include turkey, eggs and cheese.
So there it is. Some fascinating insights into how your brain and your gut are linked, and not only that how your gut can help with the health of your brain and your mental health.
Take care of yourselves….and your gut and brain 🙂