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The Gut-Brain Axis & How Nutrition Shapes Your Mind

brain-gut connection gut health holistic nutrition Oct 21, 2023

Inside every human body, a complex communication network known as the gut-brain axis (GBA) has been at work since we’ve been around. In the days of hunting food, it helped us remember where the best spots were. Today, it’s still our trusty guide (when nurtured lovingly!), with a few more conveniences. This incredible system connects the gut and brain, affecting our gastrointestinal health, mood, emotions, and cognitive functions.

For years, scientists have researched the mysteries of the gut-brain axis and explored nutrition's pivotal role. Although we don’t know everything, we know enough so people like you can use this information to optimize your axis and thrive from within!

The Brain-Gut Connection = A Two-Way Street

Imagine a two-lane highway where information flows in both directions. In this case, the vagus nerve serves as the main route of communication between your gut and your brain. It sends signals back and forth, influencing your thoughts and your gut's functionality. When stress enters the picture, it can disrupt these signals, leading to gastrointestinal issues. Research suggests that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease often have reduced vagal tone, indicating a less effective vagus nerve.

Neurotransmitters, AKA the Messengers of Mood

Your brain and gut also communicate through neurotransmitters, those chemical messengers that shape your emotions and feelings. Serotonin, for instance, is a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and regulating your body's internal clock. What's intriguing is that a significant portion of serotonin is produced in your gut, demonstrating a strong link between the two. Another neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), controls feelings of fear and anxiety and is also produced by gut microbes.

Gut Microbes and Brain Function

The trillions of microbes residing in your gut aren't just passive bystanders. They produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, propionate, and acetate, which have far-reaching effects on brain function. SCFAs can reduce appetite and affect the brain's reward system, potentially helping with weight management. Furthermore, they play a critical role in maintaining the blood-brain barrier, which separates the brain from the bloodstream.

Inflammation and the Immune System

Your gut-brain axis intricately connects through the immune system. The gut and its resident microbes play a significant role in controlling what enters and exits your body. If the immune system stays activated for extended periods, it can lead to inflammation, a factor in various brain disorders such as depression and Alzheimer's. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), an inflammatory toxin produced by certain bacteria, can enter the bloodstream when the gut barrier leaks, AKA Leaky Gut, leading to inflammation and associated brain disorders.

Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Your Brain Health

Changing your gut bacteria can have a direct impact on your brain health. Probiotics, often referred to as "psychobiotics," have been shown to improve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. One study found that taking a specific probiotic significantly improved symptoms in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety or depression. Prebiotics, fiber sources for gut bacteria, can also affect brain health by reducing stress hormones in the body.

Foods for a Healthy Gut-Brain Axis

Certain foods can promote a healthy gut-brain axis, while highly processed foods can negatively impact your gut microbiome. Diversify your diet by consuming a wide variety of whole foods to support a microbial community filled with various strains of good gut bugs. Consider fermented foods and prebiotics foods your new nutrition BFF! Here are some of my favorite foods you can add to your diet: 

  • Omega-3 Fats
    • Found in fish, walnuts, flax seeds, and hemp hearts, omega-3s can increase beneficial gut bacteria and reduce the risk of brain disorders.
  • Fermented Foods
    • Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and cheese contain lactic acid bacteria that can alter brain activity.
  • High-Fiber Foods
    • Whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are rich in prebiotic fibers that reduce stress hormones.
  • Polyphenol-Rich Foods
    • Cocoa, green tea, olive oil, and coffee contain plant chemicals digested by gut bacteria, which can improve cognition.
  • Tryptophan-Rich Foods
    • Turkey, eggs, and cheese are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that affects neurotransmitter production.

More Ways to Care For Your Mind-Gut Connection

Your gut's microbial inhabitants play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the gut-brain axis. Try these additional strategies to build a strong connection, maintain a healthy microbiome and enhance your mental well-being:

  1. Chronic stress can disrupt the gut-brain axis. Use stress-reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, or mindfulness to support a balanced gut-brain connection.
  2. Antibiotics can alter your gut microbiota. Use them judiciously and consider probiotic supplements during and after antibiotic treatment to help restore microbial balance.
  3. Physical activity studies show it leads to a healthier gut microbiome and improved mood. Aim for regular exercise to support both your physical and mental health.
  4. Adequate sleep is crucial for a well-functioning gut-brain axis. Prioritize good sleep hygiene and aim for a consistent sleep schedule.
  5. Proper hydration supports digestion and overall gut health. Drinking sufficient water is essential for the gut-brain axis.
  6. Pay attention to your food choices and eating habits. Mindful eating can help reduce overeating and improve digestion.

By understanding the influence of the gut-brain axis and by making healthier decisions accordingly, you can feel better. Remember, it's not just about what's on your plate; it's about the balance we strive to achieve. Your gut and brain, working together harmoniously, will pave the way for improved mood, sharper cognition, and an overall sense of wellness.

Let's get in touch if you want to strengthen your gut-brain connection and want personalized guidance on rekindling that vital link. We can work together to uncover the most sustainable path to optimize your GBA, ensuring it functions at its absolute best. To start this transformative journey, schedule a free consultation with me today and let's prioritize your well-being.

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