Would you be surprised to know that your brain power is DIRECTLY linked to the health of your digestive system?
Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain."
There is no denying it anymore.
And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain, your moods and your mental health overall.
What is the link between the gut and the brain?
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it! But here is what has become clear....
There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:
● The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
● The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
● The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut (primarily serotonin, our "happy hormone");
● The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
● The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes to the brain which have a direct impact on our mood and mental health.
Let's look at each of these areas in more detail....
The vagus nerve
There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain. Yes from the gut TO the brain, not from the brain TO the gut. This nerve transmits numerous messages that essentially tell the brain what mood we will be in among many other things.
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
Well you should...and that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."
And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think?
And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called "neurotransmitters."
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!
The immune system of the gut
Because eating and drinking opens up a huge opportunity for disease-causing critters to get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? 75% of our immune system is in our gut!
And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?
Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body...including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiome (the balance between your levels of good and bad bacteria) can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
How do these all work together for brain health?
The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.
But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain and a healthy mental state of mind.
So, how do you feed your brain?
Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.
But two things that you should consider eating more of are fibre and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Fibre (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) helps to feed your awesome gut microbes (and also helps to balance your blood-sugar levels and stave off cravings....just another added bonus!). And omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish like sardines, herrings, mackerels and salmon, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
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