Why your Gut and Brain is a Shot Gun Marriage
For a lot of you who do not know, these 2 organs are connected both physically and biochemically through a number of different channels than you realize which is why it matters. Neurons are cells located in your brain and central nervous system that instruct your body’s behavior. The gut contains 500 million neurons connected to the brain through nerves in your nervous system, the vagus, one of which is one of the biggest nerves connecting the gut and brain. The vagus nerve sends signals in both directions. There was a study done that found that people with Crohn’s disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome had reduced vagal tone, indicating a reduced function of the vagus nerve. They found in animal studies that stress inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve leading to gastrointestinal problems. A study on mice found that feeding them a probiotic reduced the amount of stress hormone in their blood although the probiotic had no effect when the vagus nerve was cut. Other than the nerves, they are connected by chemicals, commonly known as neurotransmitters responsible for controlling feelings and emotions. Serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness as well as helping control the body’s clock. Many of these chemicals are produced by the gut cells and the trillions of microbes living there. The gut microbes also produce gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. Certain probiotics can increase the production of that chemical and reduce anxiety and depression-like behavior shown from studies on laboratory mice. This illustrates why changing the gut bacteria improves brain health. It’s important to consume foods that are rich in Omega-3 fats, fiber, polyphenol, and tryptophan. To go a little further in explaining, fermented foods such as yogurt, cheese and sauerkraut help. For polyphenol, look at foods such as cocoa, green tea, olive oil, and coffee. Polyphenol not only increases healthy gut bacteria but cognition. Foods rich in Tryptophan include turkey, eggs, as well as cheese. High-fiber foods like nuts, seeds ,fruits and vegetables contain prebiotic fibers that can reduce stress hormones. The benefits can be vast as it extends to weight loss and heart health.
What are the symptoms of a bad gut to brain connection? Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain, and other bowel problems could indicate that. Researchers used to believe that it was anxiety and depression leading to it when new studies reveal it may be the other way around. Irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the Central nervous system that is triggering mood changes. When you think about that, it’s the case of ‘you are what you eat’ literally. Researchers at John Hopkins believed that the digestive-system activity may affect cognitive abilities as well as affect the metabolism, raising or reducing risk for health conditions like Type 2 diabetes revolving around the interactions between nerve signals, gut hormones, and microbiota. Microbiota is the bacteria living in the digestive system. Weight changes can indicate that your gut is imbalanced and will impair your body from absorbing essential nutrients, storing fat, and regulating your blood sugar. Skin conditions is another way as it’s one of the symptoms of a leaky gut and that happens when there is inflammation in the gut. Others include sugar cravings, trouble sleeping, and intolerance to certain foods. Sugar cravings are a sign that your body is low on good bacteria caused by consumption of processed foods or refined sugars. If you are overweight, you have an unhealthy microbiome.
What should I do? It should start with cutting out the harmful products we consume. For one, antibiotics and non-essential medicines should be avoided. Unless needed, take an antibiotic. They destroy good and bad microbes which can take weeks to recover as well as reducing your gut’s diversity. It’s important to note that their use is associated with obesity and allergies in animals. Avoiding artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine while drinking alcohol in small quantities can help as it increases your gut’s diversity. It’s a fun fact to note that those in the countryside have better microbes than city dwellers attributed to more time spent on outdoor activities. Those living with dogs have shown to have more microbial diversity than their counterparts giving another reason to get a dog. 7–8 hours of sleep every night is necessary. When eating, chew more so you are not consuming food by the chunks to ease digestion and avoid bloating or gas. 80% of your immune system is housed in your gut so when you think about that, the tasks range from thinking clearly to maintaining a healthy weight. Your genes don’t suck, your body’s biology does, which is all the more the reason for an overhaul starting with the gut’s microbiome’s genes. The average lifespan of a bacterium in your microbiome is 20 minutes which means you change your gut’s microbiome population. It’s just like the Purge! A healthier gut provides you with better chances of fighting off infections such as the COVID-19. It’s high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity that have the worst outcomes when dealing with COVID-19 and I know because I was tasked with asking patient’s these questions when working at the Department of Health going through pre-existing conditions. Those conditions are all associated with negative changes in the composition of our gut’s microbiome. When taking this all into account, it’s easy to see why mental health and physical health are not just inseparable but one and the same!