Your Gut – Is It a Second Brain?

We have all heard the saying, “use your gut instinct”, right?  Well, there may well be much truth behind this adage!   

Studies have shown a definite connection between the gastrointestinal tract (gi tract) and the brain, and even newer studies have suggested that the food we eat and the bacteria residing within our gut may be powerful enough to alter our behavior. Pretty incredible!  

Let me explain why these two body systems are related and why it’s important for you to know about this connection.  

Firstly, you actually have TWO nervous systems. 

1) Central nervous system: composed of brain and spinal cord
2) Enteric (gastro-intestinal) nervous systems – the nervous system in our gut.

 

For those embryology aficionados in the group reading this, these two systems are created from the same identical tissue during fetal development – one becomes your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system.  These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain-stem down to your abdomen. Many studies have shown that the vagus nerve is the primary route that your gut uses to transmit information to your brain.

Secondly, it is a two-way street! 

Did you know that the gastrointestinal tract sends far more information to your brain than your brain to your gut? The majority of the body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter) is synthesized and stored in the intestine! In fact, approximately 90% of your serotonin receptors are in your gut. 

How many of you have experienced butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous?  Or an upset stomach when you were angry or stressed? Well, the flip side is also true.  Problems in your gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to such conditions as anxiety and depression, mood disorders and decreased motivation.​

 ​As I do more and more research into this connection, it is becoming increasingly evident that our gut bacteria are both vulnerable to our diets and our lifestyle. This cross-talk between our two brains can lead to many mental conditions, as mentioned above, as well as gastro-intestinal conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative colitis and chronic constipation.

3 Ways to Optimize Your Gut Flora

1)  Avoid processed, refined foods. Processed foods and genetically modified foods compromise our gut bacteria by destroying the healthy microflora and feeding the bad bacteria and yeast. They also contain a lot of high fructose corn syrup, which increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables – at least 6-8 servings per day.
2)  Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurized foods – the beneficial bacteria in fermented foods are excellent chelators of heavy metals and pesticides, which reduce our toxic load. Examples include: yogurt, sour cream, apple cider vinegar and kombucha.

3) Take a high quality probiotic supplement: if you do not eat fermented foods on a regular basis or need to take antibiotics on a routine basis, taking a probiotic supplement will help maintain healthy gut flora.

Catch next week’s blog when we dive deeper into the importance of gut health to your overall health and well-being! Let’s stay amazing in all parts of our bodies!

In health and happiness, 

  • Dr. Diana

 Am Fam Physician. 2017 Aug 1;96(3):170-178.