Ever have a gut feeling - or butterflies in your stomach? This is no coincidence. Your brain affects your gut health and research suggests that your gut affects your brain health. This is why the gut is often referred to as the "second brain." Your gut is not only connected to your gastrointestinal health but also your behavior and emotions, your mental health - and there's research that proves it even has bearing on neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Needless to say, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to your gut - and all the more reason to take care of it.
We all have a microbiome - and a unique one at that. Research shows that the body is composed of more bacteria than cells - trillions of bacteria called the microbiome. Most of the bacteria reside in our gut, also referred to as the gut microbiota, and they play a multitude of roles in our overall health.
In addition to digestion, the gut regulates inflammation and immunity. A healthy gut is different for everyone - different compositions of bacteria for different people - and a diverse gut encourages wellness. Dysbiosis, which you have heard us talk about before, is a shift away from "normal" gut microbiota and this is what contributes to disease. The microbiome offers new ways of understanding autoimmune, gastrointestinal and brain disorders.
We acquire much of this bacteria as infants. In fact, you get your first dose of bacteria when you travel down the birth canal. Research shows that infants who are delivered by cesarean section have a lower range of good gut bacteria in their first two years of life compared to those delivered through the mother's birth canal.
Your microbiome fluctuates, however, throughout your life. It is impacted by stress, toxins, chemicals, and certain diets. This is why promoting a healthy gut microbiota is so important. What we eat, the supplements and probiotics we take and our overall lifestyle significantly affect the health and well-being of our microbiome.
The Gut, Your "Second Brain"
Your gut microbiota play a critical role in your physical and psychological health through the enteric nervous system (ENS), a complex system of about 100 million nerves found in the lining of the gut.
The ENS is sometimes called the “second brain,” and it stems from the same tissues as our central nervous system (CNS) during fetal development. It has many structural and chemical similarities to the brain. The gut and brain are physically connected and communicate via millions of nerves, most importantly the vagus nerve.
Emotions and Stress
Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it's not surprising that emotional and psychosocial factors can trigger symptoms in the gut. For example, just the thought of eating can get the stomach's juices going. This connection is symbiotic. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. It's not uncommon that a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
There's no better example than in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal distress with no obvious physical connection. It is difficult to try to heal the gut, in cases of functional GI disorders, without considering the role of stress and emotion.
Research shows that altering bacteria in the gut through specific diets may help to treat stress-related and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and hyperactivity.
Interestingly, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) frequently exhibit gastrointestinal (GI) distress. They are often deficient of beneficial intestinal microflora, which may lead to inflammation or immune dysfunction, malabsorption, food intolerance, failure to thrive, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Dr. Liubov Sichel, the scientist behind del-IMMUNE V®, conducted research that showed that the delPRO™ probiotic when taken by children with autism spectrum disorder, led to improved gastrointestinal symptoms.
In addition to autistic spectrum disorders, disturbances in gut health have been linked to multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. This is potentially related to pro-inflammatory states elicited by gut dysbiosis-microbial imbalance on or inside the body. Additional connections between age-related gut changes and Alzheimer’s disease have also been made.
Keeping the Gut Healthy
Your lifestyle plays a significant role in promoting and maintaining a healthy gut. Small changes in diet, stress management, exercise can make all the difference. So consider the following:
- Increase your intake of probiotic rich foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi.
- Look for opportunities to reduce your stress levels through meditation.
- Get your heart rate pumping by integrating some form of cardiovascular exercise into your daily routine.
- Lastly, consider a daily probiotic which will help balance your gut and mood.
Explore our blog further for more insight into how you can maintain a healthy gut.