The Brain and Gut Connection; and Ways to Feed Your Brain
Have you heard it said before that your gut is your “second brain”? Well if you haven’t yet, you’re going to be riveted and liberated to learn a number of things about the connection between your brain and gut; how it affects not just your weight-loss journey but your physical and mental health. So when you tune in to topics on “digestive health” this is actually it!
With new discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the major influence your gut microbes can have, it’s more obvious now that what you consume feeds not just your body but also affects the brain. It’s pretty amazing, but really not so surprising.
So what is this “gut-brain connection” exactly?
It’s quite complex, and to be transparent, there’s still much to be learned about it. I mean Hippocrates (the “Father of Modern Medicine”) said over a couple of thousands of years ago,
“all disease begins in the gut.”
We’re really starting to realize how right he was. It appears there are multiple things working together, like:
•The Vagus nerve, which links the gastrointestinal system (the gut) to the brain.
•The Enteric Nervous System (also known as the “second brain”) which helps complex intricacies of the flow of digestion with little or no involvement from the brain itself.
•The huge amount of neurotransmitters produced by the actual gut.
•The great part of the immune system that is actually in the gut, which can also travel all through the body.
•The communication and interactions sent by gastrointestinal microbes.
It’s all rather complex, but still seriously incredible!
So I’ll do a quick overview on these areas and close off with a yummy recipe!
The Vagus nerve
This is the nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain. And 90% of the direction of that gut brain transmission is, as you might have guessed by now, not from your brain to your gut (what we thought before), but rather, from your gut up to your brain!
The Enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Now you might have wondered earlier why the Enteric nervous system is also referred to as your second brain. Well it’s because, believe it or not, the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord – wow!
And when you really think of the complexity of the digestive process from nutrient absorption, blood flow, digestive enzymes and so on, it would really need to be executed by a “smart and brainy” system.
So how do all these nerves and communicate with each other as well as other cells? By these chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters”.
Interestingly enough, several of the neurotransmitters that strongly affect our mood come from the gut! As in your gut produces a whopping 95% of serotonin, as opposed to your brain!
The immune system of the gut
It should now make total sense that since what we eat and drink are a primary way for disease-causing organisms to get into the body, then much of our defense system would be located in the same gastrointestinal system that the foods and drinks pass through, right? That’s why 75% percent of our immune system is in our gut!
Now we’ve also gathered that these immune cells can move all through the body and then cause inflammation pretty much anywhere.
So if something present in the gut “triggers or activates” them, they could also wreak havoc in several places in the body – with potential to even cause inflammation in the brain.
Doing amazing things from helping you digest certain foods, produce certain vitamins,
and even help in the regulation of inflammation – These bacteria are your friendly gut residents. Still counting, you have billions of them happily living in your gut.
But increasing evidence is continuously showing that changes in your gut microbiota impacts your
mood, and even more seriously, your mental health.
How do these all work together for brain health then?
As I mentioned earlier everyone familiar and sharing on this topic should tell you that studies are continuing so we can learn more, as we really don’t know most of what there is to know yet.
I mean this area was completely dark for so long and what we know so far is already pretty incredible.
And this is becoming quite clear: A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So then, how should you feed your brain?
As with all building blocks of real food nutrition, a fun variety of nutrient-dense and minimally-processed foods including those that bring in the sour/fermented and bitter tastes are always necessary, as nutrients do not work in isolation.
Building on that, you may also consider two things: more fiber and omega-3 fats.
Fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds) help to feed your very useful gut microbes.
And Omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are strong inflammation-lowering brain boosters. Additionally, these factors alone will also support and train your brain to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
Try out the yummy recipe below that includes some great fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.
RECIPE: Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
(Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3)
-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!
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.
http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry- your-brain- on-food- 201511168626
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut- bugs-what- they-eat- and-7- ways-feed- them
Image by Nicola Fawcett (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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