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…..