Have you ever had a gut feeling or butterflies in your stomach? These sensations from your belly show us that the brain and body are connected. Recent studies show that your brain affects your gut health, and your gut also affects your brain health. The gut-brain axis is a term for the communication network that connects your gut and brain. These two organs are connected both physically and biochemically in several different ways. The Vagus Nerve and the Nervous System. Neurons are cells in your brain and central nervous system that tell your body how to behave. Sound complex? Let’s break it down a little bit.
The microbes that live in your gut influence your feelings and behaviors. Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes that directly communicate with your brain along the gut-brain axis, also known as the vagus nerve. We initially thought the brain was doing most of the talking in this relationship, but new gut microbiome research indicates that your microbes are pretty chatty. Yes, your gut microbes communicate with your brain, and they have a lot to say! Your gut microbiome communicates by creating and consuming the majority of your body’s neurotransmitters. Are you aware of serotonin, your “happy” neurotransmitter? Your gut microbiome makes over 90% of your body’s serotonin. Crazy, right?
Another interesting fact - There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Interestingly, your gut contains 500 million neurons connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system. The vagus nerve is one of the most significant nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions. For example, in animal studies, stress inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve and causes gastrointestinal problems.
“These new findings may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety,” Pasricha from John Hopkins Medicine says. “That’s important because up to 30 to 40 percent of the population has functional bowel problems at some point.”
What you eat is one of the most important factors influencing your health. The foods you eat are broken down and transformed by your gut microbiome to nourish the rest of your body. Yes, it’s your gut microbiome that’s digesting a majority of your food. You are what you eat, and if you aren’t eating the right foods for a healthy brain (and second brain), then you’re going to feel it. We’ve all experienced times where we felt as though we couldn’t access the total capacity of our brain. This unfortunate feeling can often be due to the gut-brain connection. Depending on what microbes inhabit your gut right now, they can take the food you eat and metabolize it into beneficial nutrients or harmful metabolites. Your microbes also neutralize compounds from food, like oxalates from nuts and spinach digestion.
For example, neurotransmitter production in the brain is dependent on specific proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, your brain needs a balanced intake of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins to keep you at your best. Folic acid, for instance, is critical for brain function and cognition. Your microbes are responsible for metabolizing your food to keep a steady supply of folic acid flowing to the brain. Suppose microbes aren’t appropriately fed; their ability to create specific vitamins, like folate, decreases. This leaves your brain struggling to communicate, and then the dreaded “brain fog” settles in. Make sense?
Your gut microbiome is unique and dynamic, so to fully know what you’re dealing with and how to modify your microbes for better health, you’ll need advice that’s specific to you. The guidance also tracks your changes over time. The uniqueness and dynamic nature of your gut microbiome is the reason why one diet doesn’t fit all. It can also be why recommendations can be practical for one person and completely useless for another.
How can you take control of your gut microbes and make them work in your favor? After all, they’ve been influencing us since the beginning of time, it’s our turn to take control! By using consistently updated technology, scientists have begun to realize that the gut microbiome isn’t just crucial to our health, it’s often the source of our health. Everything begins and ends with the gut microbiome, literally and figuratively.