Did you know that the state of your gut health could be affecting the function of your brain, and the foods that you eat each day, can have a direct effect on your mood? Depression alone is now the number one cause of disability worldwide and antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications are amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs, which begs the question 'what is driving this epidemic and what can be done about it?
Well the answer lies largely in the fact that we have a second brain hidden within the walls of our gut - or what scientists refer to as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is made up of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells, lining your gastrointestinal tract, which spans from your esophagus through to your rectum - aka your bottom! With the recent mapping of the human genome, science is finally beginning to delve deeper into researching the links between our gut health and its impact on the function of our brain, including our mental health and risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases such as alzheimer's and dementia.
Throughout my time in private practice working as a Clinical Nutritionist, my approach to treating each and every patient has always involved targeting their gut health, no matter what health issue they may present with. This is because the gut is the most critical of all the body systems in shaping and determining our overall health and wellbeing. One of the main reasons for this is because over 70% of your immune system is contained within your gut, thanks to the trillions of bacteria that live within it, referred to as your 'microbiome'.
It's these microscopic bacteria that govern the function of each and every cell within your body. Issues with our health, begin when the balance of bad bacteria and other pathogens, such as fungus and parasites, outweigh the colonies of good bacteria - a condition known as 'dysbiosis'. Believe it or not it's this process of dysbiosis that triggers the beginning of virtually all illness and disease, including conditions that affect the function of your brain!
So how does your gut influence your brain?
The main role of the brain within your gut is to control every element of the process of digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food, to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption, through to the elimination of waste. But what many people don't realise, is that the brain within your gut contains more serotonin, (the hormone responsible for regulating your mood, sleep and appetite), receptors than in your actual brain, which is the reason why a poorly functioning gut can trigger changes in your emotions and mood. This is especially evident, in people who suffer from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome - such as regular constipation, diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain.
Science has now found a link between mood changes and the function of our gut - caused by chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is an immune response commonly caused by long term use of certain pharmaceutical medications, including antibiotics, the oral contraceptive pill, pain killers and anti-inflammatories, as well as pathogenic infections from parasites, hostile bacteria, or viruses, as well as the excess consumption of pro-inflammatory foods such as sugar, gluten, artificial additives, even cow's dairy. All of these factors can trigger a biochemical reaction within the central nervous system, resulting in changes to our mood and cognitive function, including memory, motivation and concentration. New scientific research has also found a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems, can develop depression and anxiety.
Your nervous system and gut are also wired to react to certain foods - for instance, have you ever had an experience where you ate something, like a big bowl of pasta, or a sugar laden dessert, and later felt fuzzy in the brain, or completely deflated of energy, maybe even down in the dumps? Well this is the brain in your gut reacting to the food you just ate and sending signals to the brain in your head.
Fix Your Gut, Fix Your Brain
Because your gut and your brain are physically connected by the vagus nerve, this creates a two-way street - enabling signals to be sent between the two organs. This is why mental stress and other emotions can directly contribute to physiological symptoms affecting your gut - such as diarrhea. Signals also travel the opposite way - from your gut to your brain. By changing the physical environment within your gut, you have the power to change the way your brain functions, and reduce the risk of experiencing anxiety and depression, even neurological diseases such as alzheimer's and dementia, later in life.
By fixing your gut, you will ultimately fix your brain so to speak, and unless you address your gut health and diet, it's likely you'll struggle to balance your mood and improve your cognitive function. So if you're keen to find natural solutions to target the underlying cause of common neurological conditions such as depression and anxiety, or you simply want to sharpen your mind and motivation, whilst reducing your risk factors for alzheimer's and parkinson's disease, check out the program in my book Love Your Gut or my online 6WK Eat Yourself Healthy program, These both include my scientifically based eating and nutritional supplement program, specifically designed to heal your gut, which will ultimately improve the function of your brain.... now that's what I call a win, win!