Your gut is considered your "second brain." Yes, it's true!
With the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, there is no denying it anymore. It's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.
Don’t you agree that it is amazing? But not too surprising!
What exactly is the "gut-brain connection"?
The gut-brain connection is very complex and there are still lots to learn about it!
There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:
The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
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;
The massive amount of neurotransmitters (i.e. chemical transmitters released by nerve cells) produced by the gut;
The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
This is complex. And nothing short of fascinating, if you ask me!
In this discussion we will briefly explore each of these aspects of the gut involvement with the 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!
You might have experience this connection during a vasovagal syncope, which is a faint brought on by excessive activity of the vagus nerve, causing the heart to slow and the blood pressure to fall. It can be caused by fear (haemophobia anyone?), choking, or stomach cramps and has no lasting effects.
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Counter-intuitively, the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord!? And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."
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, a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness., is made in your gut, not in 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? Indeed, seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!
And did you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere?
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.
You have billions of gut residents happily living in your gut. Gut microbes 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, like depression and anxiety.
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-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
When it comes to the gut-brain connection, I have developed a fascination for this subject through my own journey, which later turned into an expertise. I know that implementing some specific healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits, which I coach people to through my Nutrition & Lifestyle Reset program, is necessary to ensure the health of this body system.
If you believe that your symptoms might be related to some underlying gut issues, consider joining the program by booking your free assessment call today!