What is the Connection between the Gut and Brain?
The connection is known as the gut–brain axis or GBA. The connection is complex, yet so real, that the gut is often referred to as the “second brain”. Ever have a gut feeling? Have you ever felt upset and became sick to your stomach? There is a complex chemical and neuro-hormonal connection between the gut and the brain that goes both ways (bi-directional).
The GBA serves to:
- Monitor and coordinate gut functions
emotional and thinking (cognitive) centers of the brain with our gut function
and mechanisms such:
- Activating your immune system
- Allowing food and other substances to go through your gut lining (intestinal permeability)
- Control of digestion (Enteric reflex , otherwise known as your autonomic nervous system in your gut)
- Gut hormonal cell communication (entero-endocrine signaling).
In other words, the mechanisms underlying GBA communications are like a network, including neurological, immune, and endocrine systems with associated neuro-immuno-endocrine mediators. The GBA is influenced by the mix and types of the 100 trillion micro-organisms that make up our gut microbiome. The microbiome influences the “cross-talk” between the gut and the brain. An unhealthy microbiome can lead to any of the above functions going awry.
Interestingly, changes in digestion and microbiome can actually affect function and structure of brain, while, changes in our brain and our cognitive function can also change our gut microbiome. Dysbiosis (the wrong mix or presence of bad micro-organisms in the gut microbiome) is one example of how communication between the GBA and microbiome is connected to central nervous system disorders and the gut. A classic example is how depressed people are at risk for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and the changes in the gut microbiome can further increase depression. IBS is actually a disorder between the brain and the gut and can even be triggered by a childhood traumatic event.
Why Should I Care About the Link Between the Gut and the Brain? A good, intact gut epithelium protects you from experiencing leaky gut. With a leaky gut, undigested food and other particles that are not supposed to leak out of the gut, can do so and result in a variety of brain-related symptoms. If you have dysbiosis, this can cause communication issues with your brain. Your brain, in turn, has its own ability to send back undesired signals to the gut. An imbalanced microbiome can even alter the ability of the gut to affect nutrient availability. This may mean that, even if you take vitamins, you may not be able to absorb them.
The number of people with gut-brain-related conditions has grown substantially over the past several decades. These conditions are often associated with gut dysbiosis, which means that if your fix your gut, you can most likely fix your brain. The gut microbiome interacts with our central nervous system, regulating brain chemistry and influencing our ability to deal with the stress response, anxiety, and memory. Interestingly, allergies and nutrient deficiencies have even been implicated as causes of mental conditions such as schizophrenia. Studies are also currently being conducted to identify how the microbiome is linked to addiction.
Symptoms/Conditions associated with the GBA:
- Brain Fog
- Mood Swings
How Can I Hardwire a Peaceful Link Between My Gut and Brain?
Work with your provider to identify the root causes of your condition(s) and your health coach to support a plan to address your symptom(s)/condition(s).
- Minimize preservatives
- Minimize exposure to toxins
- Promote a micronutrient rich diet
- Avoid foods you are sensitive or allergic to (gluten, dairy are primary examples and you may need specific testing to determine this)
- Take supplements as indicated by your provider to restore balance of micronutrients such as vitamins or minerals, if needed.
- Take probiotics as indicated by your provider. Newer research is finding that different types of probiotics may be indicated to address specific conditions.
Bottom Line: An intact and well-balanced microbiome in your gut helps to promote a healthy brain. In other words, good guts=brain glory
Carabotti, M, Scirocco, A, Maselli, MA, Severi, C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central, and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol; 2015, Apr-Jun; 28(2): 203-209.
Kim, N, Yun, M, Oh, YJ, Choi, HJ. Mind-altering with the gut: Modulation of the gut-brain axis with probiotics. J Microbiol. 2018 Mar;56(3):172-182. doi: 10.1007/s12275-018-8032-4. Epub 2018 Feb 28.