This is a topic I’m soooo passionate about, and one I could probably speak on for awhile! Many people don’t realise that the brain & the gut are intricately connected, and can influence your feelings and behaviors.
The gut-brain axis is “bidirectional” which means messages and signals are sent both ways via the vagus nerve. Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes (both good & bad) that directly communicate with your brain along the gut-brain axis, (vagus nerve). Scientists initially thought the brain was doing most of the talking in this relationship, but new gut microbiome research indicates that your microbes are quite chatty… this means what you put INSIDE your gut directly influences what your gut is telling your brain!
Your gut microbiome communicates by creating and consuming the majority of your body’s neurotransmitters. You know serotonin, your “happy hormone” neurotransmitter?
FUN FACT: 90% of serotonin produced in the body is produced in the gut microbiome! Literally what you put into your gut influences your happiness!
In fact, a change in the composition of your gut microbes has been shown to significantly affect:
· Your mood
· Your pain tolerance
· Your cognitive performance
· Your behavior
· Your mental health
Researchers have found that when the gut ecosystem is out of balance it can cause brain fog, depression, and even dementia. In fact, new areas of neuroscience are looking from the bottom-up and focusing on how the gut impacts the brain. And even though we are often told depression and anxiety are chemical imbalances of the brain, cutting-edge research is revealing a new player in the game: the gut microbiome.
But our gut microbiomes aren’t just made of bacteria. When we talk about a healthy gut we have to include archaea, fungi, yeast, bacteriophages, parasites, and RNA viruses. There is much more to the gut than simply “good and bad bacteria” - the microbiome functions as an ecosystem with all organisms impacting the function of one another.
The gut microbiome contains 100 trillion microorganisms that influence our wellbeing in significant ways. In fact, it’s hard to think of one chronic disease that has not been associated with an imbalance in the gut microbiome at some level. This imbalance is known as dysbiosis. It seems as though when someone is sick there are always menacing microbes lurking in the shadows.
Scientists have found that when there is a change in the composition of the gut microbiome, it can cause problems such as leaky gut. Leaky gut is when the cells lining your gut aren’t stuck together as tightly as they could be, allowing proteins, viruses, bacteria, and more to leak out of the gastrointestinal tract and into the bloodstream.
A leaky gut can cause the ENS (which is mostly in the gut wall) and central nervous system to have a dysfunctional conversation. As you can imagine, these miscommunications can contribute to poor cognitive function and improper emotional responses. It’s like when you have poor phone or internet reception and you can’t quite hear what the other person is trying to tell you! Chronic stress has also been shown to alter intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome), which is associated with a low-grade inflammation that has been functionally linked to psychiatric disorders such as depression. With increased levels of cortisol, there is an increase in the permeability of the gut wall (leaky gut), which then causes chronic inflammation, which is promoted by harmful microbes. This occurs when these malicious microbes out compete the beneficial bugs in the gut.
FUN FACT: 70% of our immune system is housed in the walls of the gut microbiome.
So reducing the inflammation being produced in the gut can improve its hold over our central nervous system, all by stabilizing your gut ecosystem.
So what does that mean for you?
Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut”, and he was onto something all those years ago. So think about this, if your mood is off, your body feels ill, you have menstrual cycle issues, headaches, mental fog, etc. it all begins in the gut! This is our body’s way of messaging us to let us know something’s up and it needs help - so listen up!
And it’s not only what we eat, but what we touch that matters too! Everything we press, tap, rub or nudge sheds microbes or other molecules that are quickly absorbed through our pores and directly into the bloodstream.
So now I bet you want to know, just what to do about your gut health? Well first we must REPAIR the lining, and an easy way to do this is by cutting out inflammatory foods (gluten, dairy, any allergy foods you have), and eating warming foods to help your body digest the nutrients easier. Incorporating bone broth & collagen into your daily routine can also help seal up leaky gut. Please be mindful of medications you are taking (please speak to your health care provider if you decide you would like to stop taking medications or want to change your diet drastically).
Being aware of the antibiotics you take is another step in the right direction. Now I’m definitely not saying never take them, modern medicine certainly have their place in today’s society. However, they reduce the numbers and diversity of commensal bacteria. For example, mice treated with antibiotics performed worse on memory tests due to impairments in hippocampal neurogenesis. Studies have also shown that children who are on prolonged courses of antibiotics when they are young can kill whole strains of bacteria that are never replenished later in life.
Another factor we must consider is diet & lifestyle. Diet is known to be one of the most important factors that influence gut microbiota. What you put INTO your belly, directly influences both moods & behaviours, so it’s important to layer on healthy beneficial foods & nutrients into your body’s systems, so that you continue having the right balance in your gut microbiome.
These are just three really easy ways that you can start to influence your gut microbiome, and hopefully influence your behavior & moods too! Because who wants to constantly walk around in pain, unhappy and unable to live their life as they choose?! If you would love to dive deeper, please join my 12 week lifestyle course – we dive deep into gut health & give you strategies to start replenishing your gut bacteria to have you living a more holistic lifestyle. See the plan here