The Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis: What you need to know for brain and gut health
Until recently, we didn’t know how much our gut and brain interacted.
Some people thought that our brains controlled everything we did, consciously and subconsciously. They were wrong!
While the brain DOES send messages down the spinal cord via nerves and out to enervate and POWER every organ in our body, we now know that there are a lot of watery spaces in between [interstitial spaces] with very different modes of operation AND we know that some messages and regulators travel UP from the gut to the brain!
Some of us have a sense of this connection, because we often feel emotions in our gut.
For example, when we’re scared we can get a “knot” in our stomach. Or, feeling sad or anxious can affect our appetite and the number of bathroom trips we need to make. Plus, many digestive issues often come with mood issues.
Recent research confirms a gut-brain connection, a.k.a. “axis.” This microbiome-gut-brain axis is stronger and different than we had imagined. And with new technology, we’ve been able to study the gut microbes in a way that was not possible just a few years ago.
Now, everywhere I turn it is microbiome this and microbiome that. I have watched at least 3 special scientific series with 10-40 videos apiece all discovering the microbiome!
It is definitely the word for 2018, and so before we end 2018, let’s talk about how your gut microbes, your gut itself, your brain, and your mental health are all interconnected and influence each other!
This post will likely get too long, so I will break it up over a few days.
I hope later to dive into some “mood foods,” as well as stress reducing activities that can help with gut issues.
So let’s dive in!
The gut and microbiome
We know that our gut (a.k.a. digestive system) plays an essential role in all aspects of health – including brain health and mental health. This is because it digests and absorbs nutrients from our food, and gets rid of waste.
Without enough nutrition and all of our essential nutrients, we get deficiency diseases (that are not nearly as common now as they were just a few hundred years ago). When our gut does its job absorbing what we need, and keeping out what we don’t (and what’s harmful), it helps to nourish every single cell in our bodies.
When it doesn’t, well that’s another long discussion!
Our gut also houses our amazing friendly microbes! The gut microbiota (i.e. collection of microbes) are mostly fungi, but there are plenty of bacteria, and there are also yeasts (actually a type of fungi) and viruses there too. In fact, there are as many microbes that live in our gut as there are (non-red blood cell) human cells in our entire body! The gut microbiota is sometimes called a “superorganism” and some call it an additional “organ”.
These microbes are friendly because they perform functions that enhance our health.
- Help break down certain nutrients we can’t use (e.g. fibre) and turn them into nutrients we can use (e.g. short-chain fatty acids);
- Crowd out bad microbes we ingest that can cause disease, and this reduces the risk of serious gut infections;
- Make certain essential vitamins, like vitamins B12 and K that are needed for good health; and,
- New research shows they also have a profound effect on other parts of our bodies – like our brain and mental health.
The microbiome is the collection of the genes contained within the microbiota.
Technology developed in the early 2000s has allowed testing of hundreds of millions of gut microbiomes, where we used to be able to test just a few dozen. We now know that one person can have 1,000 strains with a total of over 1,000 trillion individual microbes in their gut.
Researchers don’t yet know what microbes make up an “optimal” gut microbiota.
So, how does the gut and microbiome connect with the brain and mental health?
The microbiome-gut-brain axis: The observations
There are a lot of interconnections that we’ve seen over the years that point to this microbiome-gut-brain axis.
First of all, our gut’s main job is to digest and absorb nutrients from our food and get rid of waste. There are a lot of nutrient deficiency disorders which have brain and mental health connections. For example, insufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, or imbalances in zinc and copper or certain B-vitamins are linked with brain and mental health issues.
Second, many digestive issues seem to be associated with some mental health issues. Higher-than-normal percentage of people with certain bowel diseases develop mental health symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Another observation is through those friendly gut microbes. Lots of people report psychological side effects after taking antibiotics. Antibiotics are often necessary to treat harmful bacteria. But, they don’t only wipe out those bad bacteria, they also wipe our our friendly gut microbes too.
And what about the effect of stress on our gut? Stress can affect our appetite and even change the gut microbiome. Functional Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine agree that gut health and stress are central to health. Research shows that altered gut microbes are associated with mental health symptoms.
Also, studies are starting to show that probiotic supplements like Probio stick may help with stress and some mental health symptoms.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways we’ve seen our guts and brains affect each other. But, how can this be? How is it that these microbiota-gut-brain connections actually work?
Well, in several ways that will probably take up way too much space for today. Let’s take a reading break and I will out line it in a post later this week!
Wishing you are you microbes all the best until then!