When it comes to brain health, we really need to be looking at gut health.
Your gut is considered your “second brain” and how healthy your digestive system is running is a direct reflection of how your brain is functioning.
And because of the new scientific discoveries about the gut-brain connection such as 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.
Don’t forget to check out my overnight oats recipe at the end!
What exactly is the “gut-brain connection”?
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!
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;
- 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.
This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.
I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious brain boosting recipe.
Your vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves. It originates in the brain (in the medulla), travels down into the digestive tract. It’s responsible for heart rate, gastrointestinal peristalsis (digestion), and sweating among other tasks.
It’s the primary communicator to our rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) system, which helps us to relax more deeply.
The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters
Did you know that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
The enteric nervous system (ENS) is one of the main divisions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which controls all the functions our body does that we don’t have to think about, like breathing, our heart beating, and digesting our food. The ENS is a mesh-like system of neurons around our digestive system that governs the function of our gut.
The nerves communicate through neurotransmitters which are chemical messengers. Our neurons communicate with each other by sending messages via neurotransmitters about your moods, emotions, and feelings, as well as physical hunger.
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut such as GABA and serotonin!
FUN FACT: A whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!
Low levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with both depression and anger. When the brain needs serotonin, people often crave starchy carbs like crackers, bread, and cake, because these carbs provide the brain with the raw materials it needs to synthesize and release serotonin. At the same time, foods that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, have been found to help boost levels of tryptophan, one of the raw materials that increase serotonin production.
The Immune System of the Gut
Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right?
FUN FACT: 75-80% of our immune system is in our gut!
Our immune cells move throughout the entire body and part of their job in protection and healing is by creating inflammation. 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 microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
Fore more information, check out my blog post on Improving Gut Health here.
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!
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 many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats.
Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
I put together a handout talking about Mood Boosting and Mood Busting Foods. You can download it by singing up below.
Mood Boosting Foods!
Enter your name and email and receive directly in your inbox a copy of my Mood Boosting + Mood Busting Foods.
If you’re struggling with digestive issues and you’re feeling emotionally imbalanced or you’re having trouble concentrating, there is a high probability that your mental health is being compromised by your digestive health. I would suggest you come in for a free 30min consultation and get your Whole Body Health Profile to see if you’re digestive health could be affecting your mental health. Sign up below for your free 30 min consultation.
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 coconut milk (or milk alternative of your choice)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.