The Gut-Brain Connection and Why It Matters

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  • Written by
  • July 21, 2021

The gut is referred to as our ‘second brain’ and rightly so – there exists a biological connection between our brain and digestive system, under the regulation of our nervous system.

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional connection that occurs between our central cognitive and emotional centres in the brain and our peripheral intestinal functions. We often talk about the neurons in the brain, but there is also a network of 100 million neurons embedded in the gut wall [1, 2].

The bi-directional communication of the gut-brain axis occurs:

  • Physically – through the vagus nerve and the microbiome
  • Chemically – through hormones, neurotransmitters and other immunological factors

Why is it important to have an awareness of the gut-brain axis? Well, recent studies show that your gut affects your brain health and cognition, and vice versa. [2]

For example, did you know that around 90% of our serotonin, one of our ‘happy’ neurotransmitters, is made in the digestive system? [1]

Here we have some top tips for maximising your gut-brain connection:

1. Tone Your Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is our longest cranial nerve and extends from its origin in the brainstem, branching through to the face, the neck and thorax, and down to the abdomen. Poor vagal tone, often due to stress, poor sleep quality or poor diet, inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve and disrupts cognition and function of the gastrointestinal system.

There are many simple things you can incorporate into your lifestyle to help tonify and regulate the vagus nerve such as:

  • Breathing exercises, especially those focusing on the exhale
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Singling, humming, chanting, gargling
  • Yoga and other slow, mild forms of exercise
  • Cold blasts
  • Massage and other bodywork therapies
    [2,3]

Woman practicing yoga and meditation.

2. Eat A Cleaner Diet

Focus on eating whole foods, with the least amount of processed food possible. The cleaner the diet, the easier it is on the digestive system so it can do its job properly. A healthy diet with adequate nutrients can positively influence cognitive brain function and learning-related processes [4].

An easy way to get more nutrients into your day is to make a smoothie – packed with nutrients like these in our Nourish Mind, the full B vitamin complex, minerals and other plant compounds prime the nervous system to boost your gut-brain connectivity.

3. Eat Pre-and Pro-biotic Rich Foods

Prebiotics feed the good bacteria, prime the gut and set up a healthy terrain, and the probiotics are live little commanders that can positively affect the microbiome, or more appropriately the ‘psychobiome’ as these act as ‘psychobiotics’, to help regulate cognition and mood (5).

Top probiotic foods mainly known for their fibre include bananas, apples, asparagus, berries, oats, barley, onions, leeks, root vegetables, beans and lentils. A diet high in unprocessed plant foods will contribute to your quota of prebiotic foods [4].

Prebiotics are not just about the fibre, the polyphenols found in plant foods contribute to the maintenance of gut health by enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting the growth of pathogens, i.e. through their metabolites they exert prebiotic-like effects. We made sure to consider this when formulating our Vital Mind, that provides a great source of polyphenols and other plant compounds to nourish the gut-brain axis [6].

Probiotic foods are those that contain cultures (usually live, but some are heat-inactivated and used for their metabolites), like quality yoghurts, cultured buttermilk, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut/kimchi and other fermented vegetables in brine, beet kvass, miso, kombucha, and many other traditional cultured foods such as natto, kefir and filmjölk are gaining new popularity [7].

The probiotic cultures won’t necessarily stay living in our gut but their activities and metabolites are helpful while they pass through, especially if they are consumed frequently.

An important note – each person will find different pre-and probiotic foods that work best for them, as every microbiome has variations and preferences just like our taste buds do.

Food rich in prebiotics and probiotics.

While there is so much more to learn about the gut-brain connection, there is a significant link between gut health and brain health. The right lifestyle and dietary choices appear to make it possible to improve this gut-brain connection.

Consuming a diet rich in whole foods and nutrients, fermented foods, prebiotics, and probiotics can help support the connection between your gut and your brain. Taking targeted supplements, working to keep your stress level in check, and practising breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation may also support brain health by toning the vagus nerve.

It is important to remember that the microbiome varies from person to person and a supplement, routine, or diet that works well for you may not work for someone else. As always, contact your health provider before adding any supplements to your routine.

If you would like help customising the supplements you take or have more questions about the gut-brain connection, please feel free to reach out to our experienced team. We would be glad to help you personalise a regime designed to optimise your but and brain health.

We offer a wide range of products specifically designed to support overall brain health, including the connection between the gut and the brain.

REFERENCES:

  1. Philip Strandwitz. Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Brain Res; 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6005194/
  2. Megan Clapp et al. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
  3. Roderik J. S. Gerritsen and Guido P. H. Band. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/
  4. Clara SeiraOriach et al. Food for thought: The role of nutrition in the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Clin Nutr Exp; 2016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235293931600004X
  5. Scott C. Anderson et al. The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection. National Geographic Partners; 2017.
  6. Polyphenols-gut microbiota interplay and brain neuromodulation.
    Neural Regen Res. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6199944/
  7. Francesca De Filippis. The food-gut axis: lactic acid bacteria and their link to food, the gut microbiome and human health. FEMS Microbiol Rev; 2020.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7391071/

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