Healthy Gut = Healthy Brain

Your gut is the new frontier of neuroscience. That’s right: What’s taking place in your intestines affects not only your brain’s daily functions, but also determines your risk for a number of neurological conditions.  Scientists now understand that bacteria in your gut affects your overall physiology, and they have recently uncovered a connection between that bacteria and your brain. This gut­–brain axis has led to a new concept called psychobiotics — probiotics and prebiotics that can influence your mental well-being.

Our intestinal organisms, or microbiome, participate in a wide variety of bodily systems, including immunity, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, whether you feel hungry or full, and how you utilize carbohydrates and fat. All of these processes factor into whether you experience chronic health problems like allergies, asthma, ADHD, cancer, type 2 diabetes, or dementia.  What you might not know is that your microbiome also affects your mood, your libido, and even your perceptions of the world and the clarity of your thoughts. A dysfunctional microbiome could be at the root of your headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, or even negative outlook on life.

Put simply, nearly everything about our health — how we feel both physically and emotionally —  can hinge on the state of our microbiome. No other system in the body is more sensitive to changes in gut bacteria than the central nervous system. What’s more, researchers have found dramatic turnarounds in brain-related conditions with simple dietary modifications.

How closely are the gut and brain related?

Just as your brain can send butterflies to your stomach, your gut can relay its state of calm or alarm to the brain. Our vagus nerve is the primary channel between millions of nerve cells in our intestinal nervous system and our central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. Bacteria in the gut directly affect the function of the cells along the vagus nerve.  The neurons in the gut are so innumerable that many scientists are now calling them the “second brain.” This second brain not only regulates muscle function, immune cells, and hormones, but also manufactures an estimated 80 to 90 percent of serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter).

This means the gut’s brain makes more serotonin — the master happiness molecule — than the brain in your head! Many neurologists and psychiatrists are now realizing that dietary changes may be a more effective treatment for depression than antidepressants are. Two other chemicals manufactured in the gut also critical to the nervous system are GABA  and Glutamate. GABA, an amino acid produced by gut bacteria, calms nerve activity by inhibiting transmissions and normalizing brain waves, to a steadier state after it’s been excited by stress.

Glutamate, a neurotransmitter also produced by gut bacteria, is involved in cognition, learning, and memory. It is abundant in a healthy brain. A slew of neurological challenges — including anxiety, behavioral issues, depression, and Alzheimer’s — have been attributed to a lack of GABA and glutamate.

You may have heard about the perils of a leaky gut, where the intestinal lining become compromised. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including pathogenic bacteria,  medications, stress, environmental toxins, elevated blood sugar, and potentially gut-irritating food ingredients like gluten.  Once the intestinal barrier is compromised, undigested food particles leak into the bloodstream, where they elicit an immune response. This can create systemwide inflammation. When your intestinal barrier is compromised, you become susceptible — due to that increased inflammation — to a spectrum of health challenges, including arthritis, eczema, allergies, and even autism, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

The problems of a leaky gut become even more monumental in light of new science that proves the brain/gut connection. Can a leaky gut lead to a leaky brain?

We’ve long assumed that the brain was insulated from what goes on in the rest of the body. The problems of a leaky gut become even more monumental in light of new science that shows how loss of gut integrity can lead to a “leaky” brain.

It’s now clear that many substances can threaten the brain’s integrity. And once the brain’s barrier is compromised, various molecules that may spell trouble — including proteins, viruses, and bacteria — can get inside it.

So – what can we do about this?   The most significant factor related to the health of the microbiome — and thus, the brain — is the food we eat.  Food matters enormously, trumping other factors in our lives that we may not be entirely able to control. The idea that food is the most important variable in human health is not news. But our new understanding of the connection between what you eat and how it affects your microbiome, and your brain, is exciting.  You can change the state of your microbiome — and the fate of your health — through dietary changes, opening the door for better health in general, and improved brain function.

Something to think about…..





A Different Look at the Brain Body Connection….

It’s a common belief that our brain is the center of our consciousness, where your free will and your soul lives. We also think that the brain is a closed system when it comes to our thought process.  It feels like our brain is a special little organ that works in isolation, producing thoughts, mulling them over and then turning them into bodily action.

That may not be the case.

Think of your brain as a computer.  What kind of results would you get from your laptop if the user interface responded only to random inputs from the environment, such as wind, temperature, and other unplanned events?  Your computer would be useless.  The inputs would be random and the outputs wouldn’t make sense.  That’s why we consider the user interface to be an integral part of the computer.

One interesting hypothesis likens humans to robots that respond to programming.  If you aren’t intentionally programming yourself, the environment and other people are doing it for you. Luckily you have a user interface to your brain.  And that interface is your body.  Your body is collecting inputs from all over and feeding them to your brain to reprogram it.  The theory is- give your body the right inputs and you can reprogram your brain.

This concept is both obvious and radical at the same time.  On one hand, we know from experience that our thoughts are directly influenced by what your body is experiencing.  But because we also believe our brain is the special vessel of our free will, consciousness, and soul, we might believe the brain can also make its own independent decisions.  It can’t.  It is a computer that responds to inputs. Give it the right inputs and you’ll get the right outputs.  And your body is the user interface.

This hypothesis suggests another framework for viewing your brain. This framework gives you the means to program your brain with intention instead of letting the environment do it randomly. All you need to do is reframe your body to be part of your brain.

In the old worldview, where the brain is its own user interface, you may find yourself feeling sad, grumpy, tired, angry, and other negative emotions.  And you probably feel a bit helpless to stop it.  Your brain is determining your mood – seemingly on its own – and the rest of your body simply responds to it like a puppet on a string.  This is the most common worldview, and it can be debilitating to many people. They go through life in continuous mental anguish, feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Use hunger as an example.  You know from experience that being hungry can make you cranky.  But if you’re not aware of that mind-body connection – and often we are not-  it is easy to assume the brain is operating on its own to make you cranky.  All you needed was some food to reprogram your brain to more positive thoughts. In this case your digestive system was the user interface to your brain.

If you think of your body as the user interface to your brain, you can manipulate your environment until your thoughts change.  This process can help stop your  brain from thinking whatever it randomly wants to think.  When you do something to stop negative inputs into your brain via your body (the user interface) your brain responds by not producing negative thoughts.

Take an inventory of the people in your life who are unhappy. Ask some questions about what they are doing about their unhappiness. Rarely will the person say they are working on their body to fix their minds.

Now take an inventory of your more well-adjusted friends. Watch the degree to which they manipulate their bodies to manage their minds. Once you see the pattern, you will start to see it everywhere.

The brain likes to focus on one thing at a time. So make sure it is focusing where you want it.

It’s possible that the source of your thoughts just might be your body, and by giving your body the right inputs, it may help to reprogram your brain.