Article at a glance
- Our brains and guts are intimately connected and both can have profound health effects on the other.
- Gut microbiota are key players in communication between the gut and the brain and can have significant influences on mental health from brain microstructure to mood.
- Diet is a critical modifiable factor that regulates gut microbiota and several nutrients have proven to support gut microbiome and brain function, including Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, prebiotics, and polyphenols.
We often talk about having a “gut feeling” or describe a nervous experience with “butterflies in our stomach,” but these occurrences are not just figures of speech. Emotional factors can stimulate gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as heartburn or diarrhea, and the environment of our GI tract has been linked to psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety. Our brains and guts are intimately connected and can have a great influence on each other.
How are the brain and gut connected?
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network that includes the central nervous system (CNS), the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the enteric nervous system (ENS), and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Together, these systems allow for both neural and hormonal lines of interaction between the brain and the gut providing constant information and updates on the state of affairs between both.
A key player in this communication between the gut and brain is the gut microbiome. Gut microbiome refers to the collective microorganisms, most of which are bacteria that naturally exist in the GI tract. Gut microbes are key to many aspects of human health, from immunity to neurobehavioral. The brain has historically been considered sealed from microbes, but recent studies have demonstrated that the gut microbiota can, through the gut-brain axis, ultimately impact the brain.
Gut microbiota has been found to affect brain health in numerous ways including:
- Making hormones and neurotransmitters that influence the brain.
- Stimulating neurons of the ENS that send signals to the brain.
- Generating inflammation secondary to bacterial overgrowth.
- Yielding proteins that stimulate the immune system.
Through these varied mechanisms, gut microbes can influence brain microstructure, memory, mood, and cognition and are clinically relevant in a range of disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, asthma, and psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and autism.
Four foods that improve gut health and protect the brain?
Diet composition and nutritional status have repeatedly been shown to be one of the most critical modifiable factors regulating gut microbiota. Here are four vital nutrients that have been proven to support gut microbiome and, therefore, brain function.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can increase good bacteria in the gut and reduce the risk of brain illness.
- Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, soy products, and sauerkraut contain healthy microbes or probiotics that can enhance gut microbiome and improve mood.
- Foods high in fiber such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables all provide prebiotics that stimulates preexisting good bacteria in the gut and have been found to decrease stress response.
- Polyphenol-rich foods like cocoa, green tea, berries, and coffee all can help increase healthy gut bacteria and improve cognition.
Although it may not be capable of thought, the gut is considered the “second brain” due to its close physical and chemical connection to the actual brain. We are now aware, more than ever, that we can modify our physical and mental health through our gut bacteria. How are you supporting your gut microbiome today?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, policy or position of Trident Brands Incorporated or affiliated entities. It is important to understand that while a dietary supplement may have been shown through clinical study to be beneficial for certain health conditions, they are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or alleviate the effects of any disease. Please also note that Bryce Wylde has a pre-existing financial relationship with Trident Brands as Chief Innovation Officer.
Most importantly, the content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioner with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.