Gut Brain Connection: How to feed your brain

Uncategorized Jul 03, 2019

  If there was ever a call for "digestive health," this is it! It’s becoming more and more of a pressing issue. In functional medicine we are constantly told to “back it up” and where do we back it up too!?

The gut!

Let’s define the gut; what organs or systems am I talking about when I say “the gut”.

When I refer to the gut or the digestive system I include; the brain, mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small and large intestines.  Now that we have that squared away, my question to you is where does the digestive system begin?

The answer may surprise you, it’s the brain! The brain is super powerful, when we smell food or even thing about food, our brain sends messages to the body to specifically the mouth and stomach to begin creating digestive enzymes. You may notice that your salivary glands begin to work harder, and you may notice more saliva present in your mouth. That is exactly what is supposed to happen.

Our brain and gut are extremely interconnected!

Your gut is considered your "second brain."

There is no more denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

 

What exactly is the "gut-brain connection."

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots 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 produced by the gut;
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body.
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

 

Vagus nerve

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!

 

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would!

 And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."

 And, 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 is made in your gut, not in your brain! We used to think the happy and feel good endorphins where created in the brain, however, we now know that a majority of them are made in the gut, and carried to the brain using the vagus nerve.

Are you beginning to see the importance of the gut?

And what you feed it makes a difference in more than just feeling gassy and bloated or constipated?!?

 

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? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

Our stomach acid (Hydrochloric acid or HCl) is our digestive systems first line of defense, when we have healthy stomach acid content the acid is supposed to be acidic enough to kill pathogen’s such as bacteria, fungus, mold, viruses and parasites. When our stomach acid isn’t working hard enough for us; we will encounter illness and disease and in some cases chronic health issues.

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.

Think autoimmune issues such as Hashimotos, RA, fibromyalgia and so many more plaguing our friends and family. Our body will have these foreign invaders in the body and our body produces antibodies to fight against them, however, the body that has chronic issues with foreign invaders may become confused. Beginning to attack the body in specific areas such as the thyroid, or joints.

 

Gut microbes

Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins and minerals bioavailable (meaning the body recognizes and is able to utilize the nutrients), and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, immune system 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!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, little to no process sugars, 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, by providing the body with prebiotics and probiotics. Omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters. B-vitamins that are found in meat (preferably grass fed, organic meat products), nutritional yeast, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower as well as dark leafy greens such as spinach, bok choy.

 

Recipe (Gut food fiber, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2

  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

 

 

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

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