November 22, 2021
Ever had a “gut feeling”? There's an intricate gut-brain connection in your body, and the communication system between your gut and brain is constant. This endless chit-chat between your gut and brain is what scientists call the gut-brain axis. Thus, the gut and brain impact each other greatly. Here are 5 foods that play a role in gut health and mental wellness that research want you to know about.
The brain and gut are connected both physically and biochemically. One of the largest nerves in your body connects your gut and your brain, it’s called the vagus nerve. There are an estimated 500 million neurons in your gut sending messages to your brain. As for the biochemical connection between your gut and brain, the gut is an impressive producer of neurotransmitters. In the brain, neurotransmitters control emotions and other functions.
One neurotransmitter worth knowing about is serotonin – which is vital for the processing of emotional regulation, hunger, sleep, and pain, as well as colonic motility and secretory activity in the gut. With sufficient tryptophan present (a precursor to serotonin), a healthy gut can be a huge producer of serotonin. In other words, a happy gut can lead to a happier you. Another type of molecule made in the gut is short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Microbes produce butyrate and other SCFAs when they digest fiber. SCFAs have been found in research studies to influence the brain, in particular, helping to reduce appetite.
Yet, there is another way the gut and brain are connected that may surprise you. The way the gut and the brain communicate is greatly influenced by the immune system. The immune system is an important coordinator between the two. When the microbes in your gut aren’t healthy, it can lead to immune dysregulation. In fact, the microbes in your gut community can regulate brain development, mood, and cognitive function, according to studies. Chronic inflammation not only changes the microbiota composition, but it can also trigger significant and long-lasting behavioral changes, such as the development of cognitive impairment and depression. The immune system is crucial for gut-brain signaling. Reducing inflammation in the gut, and the presence of microbes there that trigger inflammation is important for mental health.
This two-directional communication between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis plays a role in mental health. Evidence from neuroscience research shows the microbiota (the ecosystem of microbes that inhabit the gut), appears to play a major role in the development and maturation of brain systems, as well as in our ability to respond to stress. The microbes in your gut send messages to your brain through the many neurons in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as through neurotransmitters (neuronal system), cytokines (immune system), and hormones (metabolic pathways). With 1 billion people in the world reporting emotional, psychological, and neurological imbalances, it’s imperative to focus on a healthy gut in pursuit of achieving mental health.
There are certain foods that scientific evidence suggests are worth eating, and some supplements that research shows play a role in the health of the gut-brain connection:
Based on pieces created by Allison Tannis for Canadian School of Natural Nutrition Distance Education Blog.
More on their site - including 'Are Probiotics Good for You'
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Increased colonic propionate reduces anticipatory reward responses in the human striatum to high energy foods. Am J Clin Nutr 2016 Jul; 104(1):5-14.
Tryptophan metabolism and gut-brain homeostasis. Int J Mol Sci 2021 Mar 15;22(6):2973.
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