The gut brain connection
Have you ever felt sick to the stomach, or had a gut feeling about something? There is a good reason for that. In recent years we have seen an increasing amount of research on the interactions between the brain, and the gastrointestinal tract as one of the key connections to many health conditions including mental health disorders.
Your body has two nervous systems, the central nervous system which makes up your brain and spinal cord, and the enteric nervous system, referred to as “the second brain”, which is embedded in the lining of your gastrointestinal system. The enteric nervous system contains a number of neurotransmitters like serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, GABA, which helps induce relaxation and sleep, and glutamate, a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter involved in learning, and memory.
The CNS and enteric nervous system are formed at the same time during foetal development from identical tissue and are connected via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system (referred to as the rest and digest system). It runs from your brainstem, to your abdomen and other various organs. This is the primary route your gut bacteria transmit messages to your brain.
Living inside your gut is a complex ecosystem of approximately 300 to 500 bacterial species, which can weigh up to 2 kg. One third of our gut microbiota is common to most people, while two thirds are specific to each one of us. In other words, the microbiota is like a finger print, each person has a unique mix.
Role of “beneficial bacteria”
- Stimulates the production of antibodies, increasing your immune system.
- Helps synthesis vitamin B, required for energy production, red blood cell production, metabolism, healthy brain function and vitamin K2 required for bone health.
- Prevents the dominance of harmful bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
- Helps digest foods.
- Keeps your gut lining intact ( letting undigested food particles into the bloodstream, sets off an inflammatory response throughout the body).
- Helps produce neurotransmitters.
When your gut microbiome is out of balance, you are setting yourself up for a host of health issues. Research has found a link between disturbed microbiome and the following disorders:
- Autism / ADHD
- Anxiety / Depression
- Brain fog
- Food intolerance’s
- Celiac disease
- IBS / IBD
- Skin disorders
- Autoimmune disorders
There are several factors that influence gut health such as:
- Antibiotic use, especially from an early age
- Use of antibacterial products
- Overuse of harsh cleaning chemicals to sanitize environment
- Certain foods, including processed and refined or excess sugar
- Use of the birth control pill
- Prolonged stress
- Whether we were born by cesarean section or through the vaginal canal
- Whether or not we were breastfed and how long for
- Whether you eat organic food or not
- Lack of sleep
Hopefully by now you are realising how important it is to maintain your gut health. If you suffer from any of the health issues mentioned I would highly recommend working with a qualified naturopath to restore your body back to balance. This process may include a comprehensive digestive stool analysis to investigate digestion, metabolism, absorption, the balance of beneficial bacteria and the presence of pathological bacteria, yeast and parasites. You may need to look at using some anti-microbial herbs to kill off any unfriendly bacteria, and replace them with some probiotics. You may also need to restore your gut lining by removing certain foods which irritate the gut lining and replacing them with more healing foods.
To promote long term health naturopaths focus on nutrition because it is the largest deciding factor for the health of your microbiome. What you choose to put into our mouths has such an enormous impact on your overall health. Every time you eat, you are either feeding the good bacteria and promoting overall health, both physically and mentally or promoting the bad bacteria, and feeding disease and disturbed mental function. You are what your microbiome eats, so make it count!
Medical news today (2016) Gut bacteria and the brain: Are we controlled by microbes? Retrieved from URL https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312734.php
Body ecology Your Gut Can Influence How You Feel: It All Starts with GABA and Serotonin Retrieved from URL https://www.bodyecology.com/articles/your-gut-can-influence-how-you-feel-it-all-starts-with-serotonin
PMC (2016) Gut Microbiota-brain Axis Retrieved from URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040025/
Webmd What is your gut bacterial telling you? Retrieved from URL https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/news/20140820/your-gut-bacteria#3
PMC (2014) The gut microbiome and the brain Retrieved from URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4259177/0