The gut-brain axis refers to bi-directional communication that exists between our central nervous system (our brain and spinal cord) and our enteric nervous system (our gut). This two way conversation that occurs between our gut and brain occur by two different means:
– Physically – via the vagus nerve that sends signals
– Chemically – via hormones
What happens in our brain can directly influence our gut and what happens in our gut can influence our brain. When thinking of this relationship simply, we should think of the terms “gut feeling” or “butterflies in the stomach”; a prime example of how we feel influences our gut. Similarly, stomach upset or pain can cause feelings of depression and anxiety.
The gut is home to trillions of microbes, with the collection of organisms commonly referred to as our microbiome. These bacteria are pivotal to our health. When fed correctly they produce something called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) , which are integral for our gut, body and brain health.
Our brain health is therefore influenced by the state of our gut microbiome. In fact the health of our microbiome is said to be implicated in mental health and neurological conditions. such as autism and epilepsy. Furthermore, 90% of the hormone serotonin, our happy hormone, resides within the gut, so it not surprising that what we eat effects our mental health.
So, how do we keep the gut, our microbiome, and therefore our brain, happy?
- A diverse diet – our microbiome thrives off diversity – think different colours and varieties. Imagine each little gut bug wanting to eat something different. So don’t just rotate between carrots, peas and broccoli, go try something new (and preferably in season!)
- Fermented food – kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha – all of the sources help to populate the gut with beneficial bacteria.
- Fibre – wholegrains, vegetables, dried fruit, nuts – this is what our bacteria feed on to produce those beneficial short chain fatty acids.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – not only do they increase good bacteria they have also been directly link to improve brain health and stimulating neurogenesis.
- Get moving – research has found that exercise and movement helps to promote an increase in beneficial bacteria within the gut.