How Does Gut Health Affect Brain Health?
By: Missy O., B.S. Nutritional Science
At some time or another, we’ve all been told to ‘listen to our gut’, or we’ve had a ‘gut feeling’ about something. Although these idioms may be seen as figures of speech, there is also some physiological meaning behind the phrases. Have you ever had that feeling of butterflies in your stomach? Or felt like your insides were all tied up in knots? Have you ever wondered why certain situations make you feel nauseous or even cause some (ahem)… intestinal issues? It’s quite possible that these signals are coming from your brain. Research has proven that our gut and our brain are constantly in communication. Although our gut is not capable of thought and emotion, there are ways for it to communicate with our brain, sending signals that have been shown to cause shifts in mood (1).
Gut-Brain Axis – How does the Brain Communicate?
Without getting too into the scientific jargon used to describe the communication between the gut and the brain, it can be helpful to understand how connected these systems really are. There are millions of neurotransmitters that are used by the nervous system, headed up by the brain, to communicate with all systems of the body (5). Many of the neurotransmitters that are found in the nervous system are actually created in the gut. This two-way line of communication is referred to as the gut-brain axis (1). Because our gut is constantly talking to our brain, it only makes sense that the health of one would be affected by the other.
Connection to Mental Health
Without a healthy gut biome, or the collection of organisms that live in our digestive tract, chemicals like serotonin may be lacking, which can lead to mood disorders (5). Other gut irritations like inflammation and a lack of good bacteria, can also cause an unwanted response from the brain. It had previously been thought that intestinal issues like IBS, constipation, bloating, and general stomach pain were exasperated by mental disorders like depression and anxiety; however, current research has found that it is actually a two-way street. In other words, an unhealthy gut can send signals to the brain that can cause shifts in mood and potentially result in long-term mental instability. Specifically, inflammation in the gut has been linked to anxiety, depression, and bi-polar disorder (5). There is so much research that still needs to be done regarding these correlations, but with more attention being drawn to the importance of mental health, research is ongoing and picking up speed.
Leaky Gut… It isn’t just a tummy ache
If you’ve ever had recurrent intestinal issues, you may be familiar with Leaky Gut Syndrome. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Leaky gut is caused by a breach of the intestinal wall, allowing pathogens or bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Along with obvious gut issues, there are many studies that support a correlation between leaky gut and brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as mental disorders like anxiety and depression (2). The number one cause of leaky gut syndrome is a poor diet, specifically, a diet abundant in processed foods, sugars, saturated fat, and foods that are low in fiber. This type of diet can lead to an imbalance of healthy and harmful bacteria, as well as cause inflammation (3). Leaky gut syndrome can have many serious side effects, so talk to your physician if you’ve been experiencing persistent intestinal discomfort.
Healthy Gut. Healthy Brain.
So, what can we do to improve our gut health, in order to have the healthiest gut-brain connection? Although some aspects of our gut’s biome are outside of our control, there are certain things that we can do to make sure that our gut health is conducive to the healthiest brain possible. As you might expect, the number one tool to improve gut-brain health is diet. Here are some brain/gut healthy foods to consider incorporating into your diet (4):
- Omega 3 fatty acids – can be found in fish, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed, but are easily consumed in your Livea Omega 3 supplement
- Livea Probiotics – live, good bacteria cultures that help maintain a healthy microbiome
- Fermented foods (contain healthy microbes) – yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickled vegetable
- High fiber foods (contain prebiotics, which help regulate gut bacteria) – whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green vegetable
Listen to your Gut
The signals that we get from our gut are not just instincts or intuition; these feelings are often our body trying to communicate something with us. So, listen to your gut. If you’re feeling persistent discomfort or unwarranted anxiety that manifests in your intestines, there may be something more to it. Talk to your Livea consultant for more information about the benefits of taking a probiotic and for other tips for a healthy gut!
- “Gut Brain Connection.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins University, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
- Obrenovich, Mark E.M. “Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain.” NCBI, 18 Oct. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6313445/
- Orchant, Diana. “What is Leaky Gut?” PhysioLogic, 20 July 2021, https://physiologicnyc.com/what-is-leaky-gut-6-leaky-gut-causes-and-how-to-cure-it
- Perlmutter, David MD. “Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain.” Life Time, 2015, https://experiencelife.lifetime.life/article/healthy-gut-healthy-brain/
- Pract, Clin. “Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis.” NCBI, 15, Sept. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/