I’m sure most of you have heard of probiotics. If not, probiotics are “good” bacteria that live in your gut to support gut and immune system health. What if I told you it has been shown that these good bacteria, or microflora, also support brain health? Pretty crazy!
As reported by research done at UCLA and published in the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology: “Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.”
So if you experience stress, depression, anxiety or other negative emotions have you noticed changes in digestive health? Or have changes in digestive health led to these same negative emotions?
How do the brain and the gut communicate?
You actually have two nervous systems:
- Central Nervous System: composed of your brain and spinal cord
- Enteric Nervous System: which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract
These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. It is now recognized that the vagus nerve is the main route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain.
So you may think that your brain is the organ in charge, your gut actually sends way more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut. For example, you’ve probably experienced the visceral sensation of “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous, or had an upset stomach when you were very angry or stressed. The opposite is also true, in that problems in your gut can directly influence your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression.
Neurons, which are specialized nerve cells that carry “messages” throughout the body and brain to allow the brain and body to communicate, are found in the gut as well as in the brain. For example, neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, are found in your brain and in your gut. Serotonin is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, and in fact has the highest concentration in your intestines, not your brain.
Besides research connecting gut bacteria in mental health and behavior, other research has shown that your microflora also has an effect on:
- Immune system function
- Gene expression
Your gut bacteria are constantly under attack from antibiotics, processed foods (which are loaded with sugar), agricultural chemicals, chlorinated or fluoridated water, conventionally-raised meats and animal products and genetically enhanced grains.
To help optimize your gut bacteria avoid processed or refined foods, eat fermented and unpasteurized foods and take a good quality probiotic (which are usually available at health food stores).
Hopefully by reading this you realize that nourishing your gut flora is extremely important, including infants and kids, because essentially you have two brains, one inside your skull and one in your gut, and each needs to be well nourished and healthy for optimal function.
Dr. Jessica Stensland is a busy family wellness Chiropractor in Urbandale, Iowa. She spends her weeks taking care of dozens of families. Not only does Dr. Jessica specialize in pediatric and pregnancy chiropractic care, but she’s a board certified Acupuncturist. Dr. Jessica believes that a healthier community means taking care of all ages. She is a Minnesota native and enjoys seeing family and friends in her free time, in addition to staying active and reading the many books she has on her kindle.