If there was ever a call for digestive health, this is it!
Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain."
There is no denying it anymore.
And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.
I find it amazing (but not too surprising).
What exactly is the gut-brain connection?
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, scientists are still learning a lot about it!
There seem to be multiple things working together to create this connection. Things like:
- The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
- The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
- The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
- The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and
- The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.
I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)
The Vagus nerve
There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.
And after reading this far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…
Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
I knew you would!
And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."
If you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should be done intelligently, don't you think?
And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain.
The immune system of the gut
Because eating and drinking are the main ways disease-causing critters can get into your body, it only makes sense that much of our defense system would be located there too. Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut.
These immune cells can also move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere.
Well, if they’re activated by something in the gut (a food sensitivity, or an actual pathogenic invader), they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Your friendly neighborhood resident gut bacteria. You have billions of these microbes happily living in your gut. And it’s a good thing. They do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
Check out my earlier blog on how to improve your gut health: https://www.selinarose.ca/improve-gut-health/.
How do these all work together for brain health?
The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done so we can continue learning about this connection.
But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?
Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.
But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your gut microbes and keep them doing their job properly. While, omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Recipe (Gut food fiber, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup whole oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
- Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
- Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
- Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
Serve & enjoy!
Hint: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.