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Gut Health 101: How the Brain and the Gut are Connected
Photo by Freepik, author: DCStudio

Gut Health 101: How the Brain and the Gut are Connected 

Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings can trigger symptoms in the gut.


The Gut-Brain Axis 

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. 


Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation or feel intestinal pain during times of stress. However, that doesn’t mean that functional gastrointestinal conditions are imagined or “all in your head.” Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract.


These two organs are connected both physically and biochemically in several 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. 

Gut Health 101: How the Brain and the Gut are Connected
Photo by Freepik, author: user7350813


The Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions. For example, in animal studies, stress inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve and also causes gastrointestinal problems. An interesting study on mice found that feeding them a probiotic reduced the amount of stress hormone in their blood. However, when their vagus nerve was cut, the probiotic had no effect. 


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.


Gut Microbes Affect Inflammation


Your gut-brain axis is also connected through the immune system. Gut and gut microbes play an important role in your immune system and inflammation by controlling what is passed into the body and what is excreted


If your immune system is switched on for too long, it can lead to inflammation, which is associated with several brain disorders like depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is an inflammatory toxin made by certain bacteria. It can cause inflammation if too much of it passes from the gut into the blood.


This can happen when the gut barrier becomes leaky, which allows bacteria and LPS to cross over into the blood. Inflammation and high LPS in the blood have been associated with many brain disorders including severe depression, dementia and schizophrenia.

Foods That Help

Foods that are good for the stomack
Photo by Freepik, author: jcomp

month of July is traditionally reserved and well-known as LGBTQ month. As a result, as time passes, the expectation grows. Not only will we celebrate and revel throughout the month, but we will also express ourselves clearly.

More than ever, it appears that we must rally in large numbers, show up, and protest. Every single freedom we believe we possess is in jeopardy. All of our feelings are valid, so be enraged or outraged if you want to.

We must shout from the rooftops in the face of news that seeks to limit and control our lives and bodies. The Supreme Court’s draft opinion on abortion is a heinous violation of fundamental human rights. Abortion is considered healthcare, a right, and is still legal. LGBTQ justice is reproductive justice. This is enough to incite our rage and action.Nobody will defend us or our rights if we do not defend ourselves. We are aware of this fact throughout history; we have been there many times before, not only as the LGBTQ community, but also as women, minorities, and so on… This is a team effort. As we strive for a diverse, inclusive, and free democracy, we must unite our movements in calling for action.

We will not only advocate for a rally, but we will also constantly remind each of us of the importance of voting. Primary elections are scheduled for June 2022, and general elections are scheduled for November 2022, so get involved, stay informed, and be proactive; there’s a lot at stake with midterm elections this year.

A few groups of foods are specifically beneficial for the gut-brain axis.

Here are some of the most important ones:

  • 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-3s 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 lactic acid bacteria. Fermented foods have been shown to alter brain activity 
  • High-fiber foods: Whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables all contain prebiotic fibers that are good for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics can reduce stress hormones in humans
  • 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 cognition 
  • 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.

What Is the Gut Microbiome?

Gut Health 101: How the Brain and the Gut are Connected

Bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic living things are referred to as microorganisms, or microbes, for short. Trillions of these microbes exist mainly inside your intestines and on your skin. Most of the microbes in your intestines are found in a “pocket” of your large intestine called the cecum, and they are referred to as the gut microbiome.

Although many different types of microbes live inside you, bacteria are the most studied.

There are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. There are roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body and only 30 trillion human cells. That means you are more bacteria than human 

What’s more, there are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, and each of them plays a different role in your body. Most of them are extremely important for your health, while others may cause disease.

Altogether, these microbes may weigh as much as 2–5 pounds (1–2 kg), which is roughly the weight of your brain. Together, they function as an extra organ in your body and play a huge role in your health.

How Can You Improve Your Gut Microbiome?

There are many ways to improve your gut microbiome, including:

  • Eat a diverse range of foods: This can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good gut health. In particular, legumes, beans and fruit contain lots of fiber and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria 
  • Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners: Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome 
  • Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are a type of fiber that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples 
  • Breastfeed for at least six months: Breastfeeding is very important for the development of the gut microbiome. Children who are breastfed for at least six months have more beneficial Bifidobacteria than those who are bottle-fed 
  • Eat whole grains: Whole grains contain lots of fiber and beneficial carbs like beta-glucan, which are digested by gut bacteria to benefit weight, cancer risk, diabetes and other disorders 
  • Take a probiotic supplement: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis. They do this by “reseeding” it with healthy microbes 
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary: Antibiotics kill many harmful and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance. Thus, only take antibiotics when medically necessary

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