What exactly is the "gut-brain connection"?Well, it’s very complex, and we’re still learning lots about it. There seem to be multiple things working together.
- The vagus nerve that links the stomach directly to the brain
- The enteric nervous system (the second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain
- massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut
- huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body
- interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes
Vagus nerveThis nerve runs directly from the gut to the brain and 90% of the transmission is from your gut up to your brain.
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmittersWould you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? That's why it's referred to as the second brain. 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? 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 our stomach:a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your stomach.
The immune system of the gutEating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body. It makes sense that much of our defense system would be located there too. In fact, 75% of our immune system is in our stomachs. Did you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere? If they’re activated by something in the stomach, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body; including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Gut microbesYour friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your belly and they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation. More and more evidence is showing that changes in your microbiota 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. One thing is becoming clear, a healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain. So, how do you feed your brain? Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone. Two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed the beneficial microbes and omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
- 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 banana, sliced
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts
- Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
- Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
- Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.