Our gut and brain are connected in a way that science is just starting to fully understand. But what we do know is that our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome. And this microbiome doesn't just help us digest our food, it also plays a crucial role in regulating our mood, behavior, and cognitive function.
In this article, we’ll explore how your digestive system and brain are more closely linked than you may realize. Plus, six simple tips to help you reset your digestion!
Get to Know Your Gut
Let's start with the gut, also known as the digestive system. Your gut is a tube that starts from the mouth and ends at the rectum. It's responsible for breaking down the food you eat and extracting the nutrients your body needs to function.
The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms that work together, making up an entire mini-ecosystem.
One of the most important parts of this ecosystem is the gut lining. If you took a closer look, you’d see millions of tiny, finger-like projections called villi. Their primary job is to grab onto the nutrients from the food you eat and transport them to different parts of your body, where they're used to fuel your cells and body processes.
The Gut-Brain Connection
How often do you consider that your gut and brain are in constant communication? They’re connected by the vagus nerve, a long and winding nerve that runs from your brainstem to your abdomen. This nerve is like a superhighway of information, sending lightning-fast signals back and forth between your gut and brain. This connection plays a huge role in your overall health and it's responsible for regulating your mood, digestive balance, controlling your appetite, and even managing your immune system.
The “Second Brain”.
But how exactly does this communication system work? Well, the gut and brain are connected by a complex network of neurons, hormones, and immune cells, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), or "second brain." While the ENS primarily controls digestion and nutrient absorption, it also communicates with the central nervous system (CNS) - your brain and spinal cord.
Your enteric nervous system can actually sense small changes in the gut environment, like the presence of food or bacteria, and send signals back to the brain. These signals often have a significant impact on your mood and behavior. One of the most important neurotransmitters produced by the gut is serotonin (the happy hormone). Surprisingly, up to 90% of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, not the brain! So if your gut health is out of balance, then your mental state and emotions can become scattered too.
But it's not a one-way street.
Your brain can also send signals directly to your gut. Digestive health is closely linked to your emotional state, so much so that feelings like anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy can have a profound effect on your gut health.
For instance, have you ever noticed that when you're stressed out, you get an upset stomach or your appetite disappears? That's the gut-brain axis at work! When you're stressed or overwhelmed, your brain sends signals to the enteric nervous system (ENS), causing all sorts of digestive problems.
How Leaky Gut Can Impact Brain Function
Leaky gut is a condition where the lining of your intestines becomes permeable, and begins allowing all sorts of undigested food particles, toxins, and bacteria to make their way into your bloodstream. This can be a pain in the gut, literally. If you're experiencing frequent symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and brain fog after eating, it could point to a leaky gut.
But what causes it? Well, there's no one answer to that question – there are several different factors that can contribute. A few of the most common ones include:
Diet: If you're constantly eating processed foods, sugary snacks, and sodas, you're not doing your gut any favors. These types of foods can damage the lining of your intestines over time, making them more permeable.
Medications: Antibiotics, NSAIDs (like aspirin and ibuprofen), and acid-blocking drugs can all disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Stress: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system by suppressing your immune system and making you more susceptible to digestive imbalance, sickness, and infection.
Environmental toxins: Exposure to toxins like pesticides, heavy metals, and mold can contribute to a leaky gut by damaging your intestinal lining and triggering inflammation
- Genetics: Some people may be more prone to developing leaky gut due to genetic factors.
How does all of this affect your brain? If left untreated, a leaky gut can lead to chronic brain inflammation – which can disrupt the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This is why it's not uncommon for people with leaky gut to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Studies have further linked brain inflammation to an increased risk of brain conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and depression. So, it's not just the gut that becomes affected, but the entire body.
Gut Check: 6 Ways to Reset Your Digestion
Feeling sluggish lately? Maybe it's time to show your gut some love and give it the attention it deserves. But don't worry, it's not as intimidating as it may seem. Taking steps to improve your gut health can be quite simple and easy to do.
Here are six tips to help reset your gut and leave you feeling more energized, healthy, and happy.
Food for thought: your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that help with digestion and immunity. But if you're eating a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats, you're feeding the bad bacteria and killing off the good guys. A colorful diet rich in fiber, fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables can promote the growth of healthy bacteria your gut needs to thrive.
Antibiotics can be life-saving medications when used appropriately. But they can also become detrimental to your gut health. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria, both good and bad, in your body. This can cause an imbalance in your gut microbiome, resulting in digestive issues, weakened immunity, and mental health problems.
Vitamin D & Sunshine
Vitamin D isn’t just for keeping your bones strong, it also maintains the integrity of your gut barrier and helps the body absorb nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, all essential for good gut health. A deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). People with low levels often have less diverse gut microbiomes, which can result in a whole host of additional health issues, including obesity, diabetes, and even depression.
Dietary sources: Some of the best food sources include wild-caught salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Keep in mind, one of the simplest methods to boost vitamin D is to soak up some sunshine! Our bodies actually produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Just remember to be mindful of your sun exposure and protect your skin.
Choosing a supplement:
Adding a high-quality vitamin D supplement to your routine can make a noticeable difference in your overall mood and energy. When browsing for the perfect formula, opt for one that contains a bioavailable vitamin D3 + vitamin K complex. This ensures that your body can absorb the maximum amount of nutrients possible.
And here's a pro tip: Look for the cholecalciferol form of vitamin D, which is the natural form that your body produces when exposed to sunlight.
This powerful nutrient plays a key role in the digestive process, ensuring that our bodies can break down food efficiently and absorb the nutrients we need. For starters, it helps to relax the muscles in the digestive tract, allowing food to move through more smoothly and reducing the likelihood of painful cramping or bloating. It also acts as a natural laxative, promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.
Dietary sources: There are plenty of magnesium-rich foods to choose from, including leafy greens like spinach and kale, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fatty fish.
Choosing a supplement:
Magnesium chloride is one of the most highly absorbed forms of magnesium, providing an excellent way to replenish and maintain your levels. Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, recommends a liquid magnesium chloride as a safe and effective source since it doesn’t cause the same laxative effects, compared to other types. This allows you to access all the benefits without fear of running to the bathroom all day.
Prebiotics + Probiotics
The powerhouse duo. Prebiotics are special plant fibers that the body can't digest, instead they act as food for the healthy bacteria (probiotics) that live in your gut. By feeding the good bacteria, prebiotics help to increase their population. This, in turn, prevents the growth of harmful invaders that can cause digestive problems.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are the helpful, live bacteria and/or yeast that live in your gut. They prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation, and enhance nutrient absorption. Some research shows that taking probiotics regularly may lead to lower levels of cortisol - the hormone associated with stress. Together, prebiotics and probiotics form a symbiotic relationship that can have a profound effect on our health and well-being.
Dietary sources: Prebiotics are found in various foods like onions, garlic, bananas, oats, asparagus, and apples. Meanwhile, probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and kefir. So, the next time you're at the grocery store, try to pick up some prebiotic and probiotic-rich options to give your gut (and brain!) a boost.
Choosing a supplement:
Adding more probiotics to your diet can be as simple as taking a supplement that contains soil-based strains. Unlike many other types of probiotics that get destroyed by stomach acid before they can work their magic, soil-based probiotics are much more resilient. They can survive the acidic journey through the stomach and make it to your gut to deliver the benefits you're after.
When taken regularly, soil-based formulas can help improve digestion, enhance nutrient absorption, and strengthen your immune system. It's like giving your gut an all-star team of bacteria to help it function at its best.
Take the Day Off
When you experience stress, your body's natural response is to release stress hormones that cause your digestive system to slow down or even stop altogether. This disruption can lead to bloating, constipation, inflammation, and compromised immune health.
So, what’s the solution? Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can work wonders for reducing stress and promoting healthy gut microbiota. Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are all excellent options to help you feel more at ease. Of course, don't forget the essentials like regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and adequate sleep. All of these factors play a critical role in fending off stress and maintaining a happy, healthy gut.
Happy Gut, Happy You
Your digestive health can have a significant impact on the functioning of your mind. As we learn more about the complex relationship between the two, it becomes clear that improving your gut health can lead to improved cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall well-being.