The fact that our minds can affect our guts is something we can all agree with. After all, we’ve all had “gut-wrenching” moments and experienced “butterflies in our stomachs.” Mental stress may even aggravate gastritis and peptic ulcers.
Most people assume that the gut-brain connection is a one-way street. Commands come from the brain and not the other way around, right?
Not so fast.
According to recent advances in research about the gut-brain axis, our guts can exert considerable influence on our brains. Our mental health may even be dependent on the microbes that live in our guts!
How is that possible? Here are some quick facts about the relationship between our guts and our brains.
The Gut-Brain Connection
What is the brain-gut connection? We know from basic science that our brains are connected to every part of our body through the nervous system. The gut-brain axis (GBA) is the communication network linking the brain and the gut.
The connection between these two organs isn’t just physical. They also communicate with each other biochemically through various means. Neurotransmitters, hormones, and the immune system are all part of the GBA.
The Role of Gut Microbiota
The gut microbiota or microflora is the bacterial population living in our guts. It consists of trillions of microorganisms. Altogether, they can weigh up to six pounds, more than the weight of our brain!
Why are these tiny guys so important? That’s because they can produce neurotransmitters and other chemicals that have different effects on the brain.
For example, about 90% of the body’s total serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin (5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that can regulate sleep, mood, and appetite and also affects memory and learning. Gut bacteria also manufacture gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which helps reduce anxiety and fear.
Another important chemical produced by the microbes in your gut is short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs have various functions including reducing appetite and protecting the blood-brain barrier.
Not all of the chemicals produced by microorganisms in the gut are beneficial though. For example, lipopolysaccharide is a toxin made by certain bacteria that can cause inflammation.
Balance in the Microbiome
The normal balance of bacteria in the gut is crucial to our mental health. This pivotal function starts from birth. Studies have shown that microbiota may be central to the brain development of newborns.
Any disruption to this balance may lead to certain diseases. These include depression, schizophrenia, and other psychological and neurological problems. It has also been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders such as hyperactivity and autism.
Restoring the Balance
Researchers study the gut-brain axis as a promising target in the treatment of several diseases. They’re working on the premise is that changing your gut bacteria may improve brain health.
You can alter the microbes in the gut in a number of ways.
Food plays a big factor of course. Specific diets or eating at a healthy restaurant may help relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. Probiotics, prebiotics, and Omega-3 fats are some examples of healthy brain food.
Gut Health = Mental Health
Now that you’re familiar with the gut-brain connection, take this newfound knowledge to good use. Save the gut to save the brain! Start eating healthy to protect your mental health.
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