It seems as though everyone’s talking about gut health these days — and for good reason. So much of our well-being stems from the overall health of our gut. But did you know the health of our brains is actually closely tied to our gut health? Today on Brain Waves, we’re breaking down the brain-gut connection.
The gut as the “second brain.”
The gut is so connected to brain health and overall well-being that it has been coined by many in the health field as the “second brain.” There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain, but the gut itself has 500 million neurons. Various mental conditions have been linked to an imbalance of the gut microbiome, which is why it is so important to care for both brain and gut health. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion, which is why certain emotions can trigger reactions we feel in the gut.
Meet the microbiome.
The organisms that exist within our gut and digestive system, also referred to as the microbiome, are responsible for bodily functions including immune health, detoxification, nutrient absorption, and neurotransmitter and vitamin production. The microbes that live in the gut also make chemicals that affect our brain function, including neurotransmitters. One particular neurotransmitter produced in the gut is Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), responsible for supporting a healthy mood, calmness, and relaxation through its impacts on the nervous system. About 90% of serotonin — our happiness neurotransmitter — is stored in the gut, as well as much of dopamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine. Keeping our microbiome healthy is key to keeping our brain healthy, too.
The gut and the nervous system.
Ever feel butterflies in your stomach? You can attribute that to the brain-gut connection through the body’s nervous system, also known as the gut-brain axis. The neurons in our gut are connected through nerves inn our nervous system, including the vagus nerve — the longest cranial nerve that sends signals back and forth between the gut and the brain. When we see someone or experience something that makes us nervous or excited, the brain activates the vagus nerve, triggering an immediate physiological response responsible for those butterflies. The vagus nerve is also involved in eye contact, emotion, oxytocin release, and communication. In fact, studies have shown that those with higher vagus nerve function are more altruistic, and that this can actually be passed down.
Boosting your gut (and brain) health.
Taking care of your gut health is key to the overall well-being of the mind and body. How do we optimize our gut to do so? Consider taking probiotic supplements, or eating foods rich in probiotics such as yogurt, kimchee, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Reducing excess sugar and carbs is key, as they can create an imbalance of gut bacteria in the microbiome. Eating foods high in fiber, such as fruit and vegetables like raspberries, broccoli, beans, as well as whole grains, stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria and probiotics in the gut, too.
Have any favorite tips for taking care of your gut health? Let us know by leaving a comment or tagging us @TakeYourLiveli!