Have you ever heard of the gut-brain connection? Are you at all confused as to what this actually means?
Well, your gut is actually considered to be your “second brain.”
In this post, I will explain how and why this is and why what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.
Between the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s not too surprising that our gut has a strong influence over what is going on in our bodies. From our depression or anxiety to inflammation to weight management, our gut plays a key role in the cause and therefore can be the way to finding your solution.
What is the “gut-brain connection?”
This interaction is very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!
It involves 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 large number of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
- The large part of the immune system that resides in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
- The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
Here is a brief summary of each of these areas
The Vagus Nerve
This is the 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!
The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters
Your gut has more nerves than your spinal cord. Yes, it’s true! And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”
If you think about it, controlling the process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) is complex and requires a lot of communication.
And these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells using 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 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 organisms can get into your body, it makes sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!
And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?
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 friendly gut microbes happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
And more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
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!
Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required to feed our gut (and our brain), because no nutrients work alone.
But two things that you may 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.
Check out this breakfast recipe that includes both!