Ways our Mind and Gut are Connected

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Did you know your mind and gut are connected? Having “butterflies” in your stomach when you are nervous or having an upset stomach when you are stressed is proof that our brain and gut are talking to each other.  

But How?  

Your digestive tract is comprised of 100 million mesh-like body neurons, which is the network of nerve cells referred to as the enteric nervous system. It is so extensive that some scientists are calling the enteric nervous system our “second brain.”   

The vagus nerve (a thick cable of neurons running between the base of the brain and our gut) allows the brain and the gut to communicate with each other, with information flowing bi-directionally.  This is also known as the gut-brain axis.  

The vagus nerve isn’t the only way the brain and gut communicate – your gut microbiota is also participating in these conversations. The gut microbiota refers to the trillions of microbes that reside in your gut and play an integral role in your health.   

The gut microbiota communicates by producing and storing over 30 neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the body). In fact, your gut microbiota produces over 95% of serotonin (known as “the happy chemical”), directly affecting your mood, and wellbeing.  1,2 

Healthy Gut, Happy You  

90% of the neurons in the vagus nerve are actually sending messages from the gut to the brain, rather than from your brain to your gut. This means the signals generated in the gut can massively influence the brain.  This can explain why digestive problems can cause anxiety and stress.   

Researchers suggest that disrupting the healthy balance of bacteria in the microbiota can cause the immune system to overreact and contribute to inflammation of the GI tract, in turn leading to the development of symptoms of disease that occur not only throughout your body, but also in your brain. 3,4,5  

What we eat is one of the fastest and easiest ways to influence the gut microbiota. By giving your gut microbiota the nutrition it needs to flourish, it will help take care of you. 

The most widely studied external factor for shaping the gut microbiota make-up and function is diet. This means the food we eat plays an essential role in maintaining the diversity and proper function of our gut microbiota. 6  

While the research is still relatively in its infancy, there are a few things we can confidently recommend to promote digestive health:  

  • Getting adequate fibre. Health Canada states that women need 25 grams of fibre per day and men need 38 grams of fibre per day. Unfortunately, Canadians are only getting about half that much!  7  
  • Focusing on dietary variety – especially those plant-based foods  
  • Reducing excess intake of red & processed meats  
  • Reducing intake of highly processed foods that are often high in sugar and fat, and low in nutrients & fibre 

Further to this, recent evidence shows that enriching our diet with things like probiotics, and fermented foods containing living cultures can support gut health. 8  

However, not all probiotics are made equal, so we always suggest you talk to your doctor or dietician before choosing one that’s right for you! Download the infographic below for a fast and easy description of the ways our mind and gut are connected.

References:

  1. MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Gut microbes important for serotonin production. Medical News Today. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/292693
  1. Carpenter, D. S. (2012, September). That gut feeling. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling
  1. Dickerson F, Severance E, Yolken R. The microbiome, immunity, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. May 2017;62:46-52 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159116305578?via%3Dihub
  1. Gut Microbia (Mucosal Immunology, 4th Ed. 2015). Elsevier/Science Direct https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/gut-microbiota  
  1. Mayer EA, Knight R, Mazmanian SK, Cryan JF, Tillisch K. Symposium: Gut Microbes and the Brain. The Journal of Neuroscience. November 12, 2014;34(46):15490-15496. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/34/46/15490.full.pdf 
  1. Information About Gut Microbiota. (2020, February 28). Retrieved from https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/about-gut-microbiota-info/ 
  1. Health Canada; Fibre (2019, January 22). Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/fibre.html 
  1. Fermented Foods. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://isappscience.org/for-scientists/resources/fermented-foods/