Improving Your Health By Understanding The Brain-Gut Axis

Domonique D. Hargrove B.A., M.S, NCEP Certified Trainer, Founder& President of “Slight Edge Performance Program” LLC

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What is The Gut-Brain Axis?

The gutbrain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain. Neurotransmitters and other chemicals produced in your gut also affect your brain. By altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health.

The gut–brain axis is the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system.

The gutbrain axis, a bidirectional neurohumoral communication system, is important for maintaining homeostasis and is regulated through the central and enteric nervous systems and the neural, endocrine, immune, and metabolic pathways, and especially including the hypothalamicpituitaryadrenal axis (HPA axis).

What is The Gut-Microbiota?

Human gastrointestinal microbiota, also known as gut flora or gut microbiota, are the microorganisms, that live in the digestive tracts of humans. Many non-human animals, including insects, are hosts to numerous microorganisms that reside in the gastrointestinal tract as well.

The human body’s largest population of microorganisms resides in the intestine and is collectively called the gut microbiota. Although initially it was thought that there were more microbial than human cells in the body, recent estimates show microbial and human cells are present in comparable numbers.

The human microbiota is made up of trillions of cells, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The biggest populations of microbes reside in the gut. Other popular habitats include the skin and genitals. The microbial cells and their genetic material, the microbiome, live with humans from birth.

Gut microbiota (formerly called gut flora) is the name given today to the microbe population living in our intestine. Our gut microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes (150 times more than human genes).

How Does the Gut-Brain Connection Work?

Growing evidence indicates that gut bacteria — especially Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species — can influence our social behavior, anxiety, stress and depressive-like behavior.

“We know there are numerous possible mechanisms, including communication via the vagus nerve (major nerve linking the gut and brain), the immune system and hormonal changes, as well as the production of neuroactive chemicals by gut microbes,” said Dr. Katerina Johnson, from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford.

It is intriguing that numerous species of gut bacteria can produce chemicals of identical structure to our brain’s own neurotransmitters, or their precursors.

Microbial growth gives rise to metabolic by-products such as short-chain fatty acids known to affect brain function and microbial metabolites can also interact with our immune response.

The gutbrain axis (GBA) is a bidirectional link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) of the body. It involves direct and indirect pathways between cognitive and emotional centers in the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.

The gut-brain axis is a term for the communication network that connects your gut and brain. These two organs are connected both physically and biochemically in a number of different ways.

Neurons are cells found in your brain and central nervous system that tell your body how to behave. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Interestingly, your gut contains 500 million neurons, which are connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system.

The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions.

Your gut and brain are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters produced in the brain control feelings and emotions. For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and also helps control your body clock.

Interestingly, many of these neurotransmitters are also produced by your gut cells and the trillions of microbes living there. A large proportion of serotonin is produced in the gut. Your gut microbes also produce a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety.

How To Strengthen and Heal The Gut-Brain Axis?

By altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids, fermented foods, and other polyphenol-rich foods may improve your gut health, which may benefit the gutbrain axis.

The foods you eat influence your gut health as well as your cognitive health. Therefore, eating foods low in processed, refined sugar and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber will help improve gut health and reduce inflammation.

What Foods Help the Gut-Brain Axis?

  • Omega-3 fats: These fats are found in oily fish and also in high quantities in the human brain. Studies in humans and animals show that omega-3 fatty acids can increase good bacteria in the gut and reduce the risk of brain disorders
  • Fermented foods: Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and cheese all contain healthy microbes such as lactobacilli. Fermented foods have been shown to alter brain activity.
  • Polyphenol-rich foods: Cocoa, green tea, olive oil, and coffee all contain polyphenols, which are plant chemicals that are digested by your gut bacteria. Polyphenols increase healthy gut bacteria and may improve brain function.
  • Tryptophan-rich foods: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Foods that are high in tryptophan include turkey, eggs, and cheese.

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