What You Need To Know About The Gut-Brain Axis
We’ve all experienced a gut feeling at some point in our lives. Sometimes these feelings may manifest themselves as a general feeling, like when someone just gives you a bad vibe or you have an unexplainable urge to cancel your plans. Other times, these feelings present themselves in a more physical manner, like when you get butterflies in your stomach before a first date or you feel nauseous before a big presentation.
No matter how your gut feelings present themselves, they often will lead you in the right direction. But how can that be? Are your gut and brain somehow connected enough to guide you through life that accurately? Yes, they actually are. And they have a lot more in common than you might think. Let me break it down for you.
The Connection Between Your Gut and Your Brain
Your body is made up of a variety of complex systems, and as the powerhouse of your body, your brain needs the ability to communicate with each of these systems. The way it does this is through a variety of different connections with one of the biggest ones being the gut-brain axis. This “axis” links your gut and brain together both physically and biochemically. Let’s dive a little deeper into both of these connections, starting with the biochemical one.
The Biochemical Connection
Your brain naturally produces over 60 molecules known as neurotransmitters, which act as a type of chemical messenger for your body. These neurotransmitters are used to send signals between neurons and are especially important when it comes to helping your brain control feelings and emotions. For example, serotonin, one of the most commonly known neurotransmitters, promotes feelings of happiness.
Interestingly, your brain isn’t the only organ in your body that produces these neurotransmitters. In fact, approximately 30 different neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), are also produced in your gut, which means they are responsible for the biochemical part of the gut-brain axis.
The microbiota that reside in your gut play a large role in determining which neurotransmitters are produced there. These neurotransmitters then go on the send signals to the neurons in your brain, ultimately affecting things like your mood and emotions. Because of this, ensuring that you have a healthy gut microbiome may positively affect your brain.
In addition to neurotransmitters, your gut is responsible for producing other chemicals that can impact how your brain works. The microbiota in your gut also produce chemicals called metabolites via the process of metabolism. When it comes to the gut-brain axis, one particular type of metabolite is especially important. They are known as short-chain fatty acids, and they are important for the formation of the blood-brain barrier. The BBB is a complex system of membranes, spaces, and blood vessels that regulates what can and cannot cross over from your bloodstream to your brain tissue. Its job is to ensure that your brain is able to receive vital nutrients without being harmed by toxins or pathogens that may be circulating in your blood. Needless to say, a healthy gut that is producing enough short-chain fatty acids is vital for healthy brain development and function.
The Physical Connection
The physical part of the gut-brain axis connection begins to form in the womb. During human embryonic development, the nervous system is the first to form. However, the gastrointestinal tract also begins developing early, nearly simultaneously with the nervous system. During these developmental processes, parts of the nervous system get hardwired into the gut. This is known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), and it plays a significant role in the communication that occurs between your gut and your brain.
In order to get signals from your gut to your brain, and vice versa, your body utilizes both your ENS and your central nervous system (CNS), which is the system of nerves throughout your body that connect directly to your brain. At the center of this connection is the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the human body, and it is often referred to as the “wanderer nerve” because it connects your brain to numerous other organs throughout the human body, including the gut. This important nerve essentially acts as an information highway, carrying important information from your organs to your brain and back again. This nerve is what allows your brain to not only keep tabs on what is happening in organs like your gut but also to deliver an appropriate response.
When it comes to the gut-brain axis, the vagus nerve is responsible for relaying information about digestive functions. One of the biggest examples of this happens when you eat a meal. As your body begins to digest the food, the activity of the bacteria in your gut microbiome begins to change. Your vagus nerve senses these changes and sends this information to your brain. When your gut and vagus nerve are healthy and functioning properly, your brain is then able to appropriately and immediately respond.
However, much like any other highway, the information highway that is your vagus nerve can experience interruptions or slowdowns. Factors like an unhealthy gut microbiome or strong feelings like stress or anxiety can disrupt the vagus nerve and slow down or even stop signals from being transported. When these kinds of disruptions occur, they can impact both your gut and your brain by triggering things like gastrointestinal issues or sudden emotional changes.
Supporting Your Gut-Brain Axis
As you now know, your gut and brain are intimately connected, and the health of one can affect the health of the other. In order to support a healthy gut-brain axis that functions properly, it’s important to take steps to maintain a healthy brain as well as a healthy gut.
One of the best places to start is by finding healthy ways to cope with stress or other heavy emotions that can disrupt the function of the gut-brain axis. From things like tight work deadlines to strained relationships, many of us experience some form of stress in our day-to-day lives. Recognizing situations that cause stress to bubble up and taking steps to release it can do wonders for the health of both your gut and brain.
In addition to finding stress management techniques that work for you, nourishing both your gut and brain with the right nutrients is important to help support your gut-brain axis. Here are some of the most important nutrients when it comes to supporting both your gut and your brain.
- Essential fatty acids. The human brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, including essential fatty acids that help maintain brain health by forming new brain cells and building cell membranes. Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are particularly important. Adding oily fish to your diet is one of the best ways to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Amino acids. There are 20 standard amino acids that your body uses as building blocks for protein. Some of these amino acids, like tryptophan and tyrosine, are precursors to neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are an important part of the gut-brain axis. Chicken, turkey, cheese, and eggs are all great sources of these specific amino acids.
- Fiber. Dietary fibers can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. These “prebiotic” fibers are used to feed and nourish the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that reside in your digestive tract, which play an important role in your overall gut health.
- Probiotics. These are living microorganisms that help to improve gut health by adding to the colonies of beneficial bacteria that are already there. They can be found in a variety of foods like yogurt, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Alternatively, you can turn to a probiotic supplement as a simple and convenient way to seed your gut with good bacteria.
Nurture Your Gut-Brain Axis With Essentials
Nourishing and supporting your gut-brain axis is an important part of improving your overall health, but sometimes it can be difficult to include all those vital nutrients in your diet. Here at New Earth, we understand that, which is why we created Essentials.
These convenient daily packs were designed with both your gut and brain in mind. They are filled with organically sourced superfoods, enzymes, and probiotics that both nurture your gut and provide your body with vital nutrients.
Specifically, each Essentials packet contains digestive enzymes to help promote optimal digestion and assimilation, two strains of probiotics to seed your gut with good bacteria, and the superfood known as organic Wild Microalgae® to provide your body with important vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients it needs to function optimally.
The best part is you can put Essentials to the test risk-free with our 90-day money-back guarantee!
At New Earth we are on a mission to positively impact the health of every body and soul we come in contact with. We specialize in producing third-party certified, organic whole food supplements including a variety of probiotics, and digestive support. Our supplements feature a rare, yet highly nutritious superfood, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). Also known as organic Wild Microalgae®, AFA is a unique type of microalgae that is available in many forms including tablets, capsules, and powders all designed to help you on your journey to holistic wellness. The best part? We offer a 90-day money-back risk-free guarantee on all of our products. Visit our website to learn more.
Sending You Tons of Love and Humongous Hugs,
Tina “Connecting Your Gut And Brain” McDermott