While the body is often separated into its various systems, organs, and areas, the fact remains that it is still one entity. Because of this, there are countless connections between the various parts of the body, something which many people may not even realize.
Take the gut and the brain, for instance. With the gut in the abdomen and the brain located at the top of the head, it does not seem like one would have any influence on the other. Even more, it appears that each has a different set of tasks, so the actions of one should not affect the workings of the other. However, this is not true.
The gut and the brain are highly connected to each other from both directions, meaning the brain influences the gut and vice versa. The easiest example to give to visualize this connection is nervousness manifesting as a stomachache, which any shy individual having to give a presentation is all too familiar with. Despite the emotions being something they feel in their head, they present as physical symptoms in the gut.
Still, there are many other connections between these two vital organs.
Scientists consider the gut to be the body’s second brain. Termed the enteric nervous system (ENS), it consists of two thin layers containing more than 100 million nerve cells that reside within the gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the rectum. The ENS differs from the brain, though, with a primary role of controlling digestion by releasing enzymes or controlling blood flow to manage nutrient absorption.
While the ENS is incapable of thought, like the brain, it still communicates with the brain, forming the gut-brain connection, also known as the gut-brain axis.
For instance, research is finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system sends signals to the brain that trigger mood changes. This can explain why those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) experience mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. In the past it was thought that the mood disorder caused the intestinal problem, but now we’re seeing that the opposite might be true.
This gut-brain axis works in the other direction as well. For example, when you think of eating, your stomach releases juices, even before any food arrives. Additionally, stress can often manifest with GI symptoms, showing how one organ system influences the other.
Despite the connecting role between the gut and the brain, that does not mean that problems affecting your gastrointestinal system are all in your head. They may manifest due to thoughts and emotions, but the psychology then combines them with physical factors, making them all too real.
While there is undoubtedly more to learn about the brain-gut connection, what we understand now is a great reason to prioritize gut health in order to promote good mental health and functioning.
Now that we understand the vital connection between the gut and brain, let’s take a look at how you can improve your gut health (and thus improve your brain).
When it comes to your gut health, it’s best to start with small changes and work your way up from there; that way, you create habits that last. The following tips are great places to start.
Research has shown that exercise helps to promote a diverse microbiome in the gut, which leads to more types of bacteria helping to promote health in your body.
Many studies highlight the role of both exercise and diet, but one review found that exercise, on its own, can alter gut bacteria composition and functionality. Additionally, it was found that high-intensity and longer workouts were most beneficial for a healthy gut.
Stress directly plays into the gut-brain connection, causing butterflies in the stomach and sometimes affecting your bowel movements.
Knowing this, finding ways to manage your stress levels can help reduce uncomfortable GI symptoms and maintain balance in your gut. Activities such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and therapy can go a long way in managing both your stress levels and gut health.
Chewing your food is one of the first stages of the digestive process and serves a crucial role. When chewing your food with your teeth, you break it down into a form that is more easily broken down by enzymes and acids. Breaking down the food then allows for the release of nutrients that your body then absorbs. However, if you do not chew your food enough, your body may not break it down thoroughly, which can impact digestion.
To keep the gut-brain connection optimal, be sure to add the following foods/nutrients to your diet:
More than these vitamins and nutrients, though, you also want to be sure that you are eating a diverse range of food, as that helps to support a more diverse microbiome. The more diverse your microbiome, the healthier it is considered to be because the more species of bacteria that are present and the more health benefits they possess.
The gut microbiome can influence sleep, and the opposite is true as well, with some studies showing that better sleep is linked with higher diversity in gut bacteria.
Another study found that sleep disruptions can lead to poor blood sugar control and increase fat tissue inflammation, which can then change the bacteria present in the gut.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to promote a healthy gut.
Another great way to support your gut health is through a digestive product, which can produce highly favorable results when combined with the tips above.
GI Balance (GIB) contains a blend of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria that support your microbiome. Probiotics can help aid proper digestion while reducing unpleasant GI symptoms such as bloating. By keeping your digestive system working correctly, your brain benefits as well.
Another great digestive product is Premium Enzyme Complex (PEC), which is a proteolytic enzyme supplement that aids your body as it absorbs proteins and nutrients from the food you eat. Enzymes help break down food as it travels through the digestive system and PEC supports these actions, helping your body absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from your food. Pairing this supplement with a diet focused on brain and gut-healthy foods ensures that these two organ systems receive all the nutrients they need.
The interplay between the brain and gut is immense, and likely more than we currently understand. Still, taking the time to care for your gut can go a long way in promoting overall wellbeing, and the above tips are a great place for you to start.
Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of gastroenterology, 28(2), 203–209.
Heiman, M. L., & Greenway, F. L. (2016). A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Molecular metabolism, 5(5), 317–320. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2016.02.005
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