Our gut and brain are in constant connection. Two vital organs sharing HUGE amounts of information without us being aware.
Although we're already aware aware of a connection... We know that our gut will tell our brain when we’re hungry — or full! But it also shares more complex information that’s key to a happy, healthy life.
The gut is the real hub of the body. It’s where we process nutrients that create the energy for us to live. And it's the first line of defence from pathogens or toxins that we ingest, (over 70% of our immune system is found in the gut!) — so it’s no wonder that our gut has well established paths of communication with our brain.
How does our gut microbiome affect our wellbeing and mental health?
Wellbeing and good gut health are at the core of what we hope to foster here at Jamu Wild Water — it’s a subject we’re incredibly passionate about.
So how are the gut and brain communicating? Does bad gut health affect our mental health? And what exactly are they talking about?
We take a look at this fascinating connection below!
What is the gut-brain axis?
The gut-brain axis is a new term coined by scientists that describes the communication pathways between the gut and the brain.
Our gut is filled with a unique array of nerves and signalling abilities, as Giulia Enders puts it in her book “Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ”…
“There is only one other organ in the body that can compete with the gut for diversity — the brain”.
It’s also why our gut is often referred to as our ‘second brain’.
These nerves play a complex role in influencing our health, mood, and even possibly how we think!
That gut feeling…
This gut brain axis is a fairly recent discovery, having only been named in the last few decades.
But we have long been aware of a connection…
Whenever we say we have a ‘gut feeling’ about something, or ‘butterflies in our stomach’ — these little phrases hint at how we’ve long known that our gut is linked to our emotions and feelings.
As scientists begin to untangle these pathways, we’re starting to piece together just how vital good gut health is to the health of our body and mind.
Good gut health boosts wellbeing
Good gut health = a diverse gut microbiome
And it’s the bacteria within our gut that are influencing our immune system, mental health, nutrient absorption and so much more.
An imbalanced gut microbiome allows pathogens to take hold more quickly. But it it can also affect how efficiently our body carries out daily functions that protect us.
Related Read | How to Boost your Gut Microbiome
So how does the gut microbiome influence the brain?
The gut microbiome helps to transfer information about the inner workings of our body to the brain. From how much energy we’ve just consumed from a recent meal (or how much alcohol!) to any interactions our immune cells may be having, (e.g. harmful pathogens in our gut which will cause us to feel nauseous).
It can influence…
- Our mood and mental state
- How we regulate our emotions
- And much more
Some studies suggest that even a single imbalance of one microbe within our gut microbiome can affect our mood!
What are the pathways of the gut brain axis?
So how are these two organs communicating? The gut brain axis uses several pathways to share information…
The Vagus Nerve. The fastest route of communication between the gut microbiome and brain is the neurological one! The bacteria in our gut can create neurotransmitters. The gut and brain can share signals on our appetite (hunger and fullness!). But they also share information that affects our mood, immune response, and crucially digestive processes.
The Endocrine pathway is the sharing of hormones throughout the body. Serotonin, the well known ‘wellbeing’ hormone, is produced in the gut, and the endocrine pathway is a vital connection between the gut and brain in transmitting this hormone.
The immune pathway is a very important communication highway. With over 70% of our immune cells found in the gut, our gut microbiome helps to train the body to recognise toxins and bad bacteria. Interruptions in this pathway have now been linked to neurodevelopmental diseases and also conditions of the gut too — like inflammatory bowl disease.
The metabolic pathway involves the reactions of enzymes within cells. When our gut microbiome ferments dietary fibre, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) for example butyrate. Butyrate is now thought to influence the physiology of our brain, impacting our mental health, but also possibly helping to reduce the likelihood of diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Can stress and anxiety affect your gut health?
While the gut sends updates to the brain, it can also receive information back…
Stress and anxiety can have a surprisingly large affect on our gut health.
When our mind is anxious or stressed, our fight or flight response is activated. When this happens, our brain ‘borrows’ energy away from our gut. This reduces the blood supply and all the processes that our gut carries out.
This effect is a natural and temporary response. But chronic stress or anxiety can begin to weaken the gut wall.
It can even lead to a condition called ‘leaky gut syndrome’, where toxins can more easily pass from the gut to the blood and into our bodies — causing further illnesses and issues.
How to strengthen the gut brain axis
One way to strengthen the relationship between the gut and brain is to make sure you eat a varied amount of fruit and veg, and also aim to meet the requirements of certain nutrients...
Prebiotic fibre is one key nutrient that helps to keep your gut microbiome ‘nourished’. It boosts the population of 'good bacteria' and also helps them produce more SCFAs (like butyrate!), that can reduce inflammation and protect your brain.
Prebiotics are now recognised as a way to boost overall health and immunity — but now also our mental health and wellbeing.