How To Feed Your Brain: The Gut Brain Connection
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.
What exactly is the "gut-brain connection"?
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!
There seem to be multiple things working together. 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.
There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.
You're probably getting a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission travels…
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
Are you ready for your mind to be blown? The gut has more nerves than your spinal cord.
That right there is why it's referred to as the "second brain."
And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think?
These nerves speak to each other with tiny 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! So if you have a gut issue that creates some inflammation your serotonin levels may be completely out of whack.
But the good news is, now you can blame any bitchiness or melodrama on your gut issues – or at least I do ;)
I’m not emotional. It’s the celiac disease.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF THE GUT
Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!
Immune cells can move throughout the body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, even in the brain. If these immune cells are “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc somewhere else.
Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest foods, make 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.
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 to learn more.
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 awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
BLUEBERRY HEMP OVERNIGHT OATS (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3)
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup 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!
Tip: 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.