The Critical Axis
The brain-gut connection is an incredible example of just how interconnected the systems of our bodies truly are; it is also one of our most important bidirectional physiological relationships that impacts everything from digestion, mood, overall health and even how we think as human beings. The axis itself is the bidirectional communication between the brain and our gastrointestinal (GI) system (stomach, large & small intestine). The connective nerve that transmits these communications is the vagus, the longest cranial nerve in the human body that regulates several physiological processes, including digestion and immune function.
The round-trip highway: Enteric Nervous System
Our brains send signals to our gastrointestinal (GI) tract via the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest). The balance of signals from these two inputs can affect the speed at which food moves through the digestive system, absorption of nutrients, secretion of digestive juices and the level of inflammation in our overall digestive system.
The digestion system’s own nervous system is the enteric nervous system which consists of over 100 million nerve cells in and around our GI tracts. The enteric is also intimately connected with millions of immune cells that survey our digestive system, conveying information, such as stomach bloat, GI tract infection or insufficient blood flow back to the brain in a constant, never ending neurological x belly round trip highway.
Research and growing evidence show that our gut microbiome, which is the population of microorganisms that live in the gut, take a critical role in the aforementioned round trip highway, having significant influence over our brain’s ability to produce neuro, immune and musculoskeletal transmitters throughout the body.
There are several factors that can disrupt the brain x gut connection that can lead to dysregulation:
- Stress: Chronic stress can affect the gut microbiome and disrupt the communication between the brain and the gut.
- Poor diet: A diet high in processed and sugary foods can negatively impact the gut microbiome and disrupt the brain-gut axis.
- Lack of physical activity: Physical activity has been shown to have a positive effect on the gut microbiome and the brain-gut axis. Lack of physical activity may contribute to dysregulation of this system.
- Alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact the gut microbiome and disrupt the brain-gut axis.
- Antibiotic use: Antibiotics can alter the gut microbiome and disrupt the communication between the brain and the gut.
- Chronic illness: Chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease, can affect the gut microbiome and disrupt the brain-gut axis.
- Aging: The gut microbiome changes with age, and this can impact the brain-gut axis.
By taking steps to manage stress, eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use, it may be possible to support the healthy functioning of the brain-gut axis.
Plan of Action
There are several activities and habits that may help support the healthy functioning of the brain-gut axis:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on the gut microbiome and the brain-gut axis.
- Stress management: Techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve the communication between the brain and the gut. Additionally, taking a plant-based stress formula can significantly aid the brain-gut axis
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and probiotics (such as fermented foods) can support the health of the gut microbiome and the brain-gut axis.
- Getting enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for overall health, immune function and may support the healthy functioning of the brain-gut axis
- Probiotic supplements: Probiotic supplements, which contain live microorganisms, may help support the health of the gut microbiome and the brain-gut axis.
- Prebiotic supplements: Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that help nourish the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Consuming prebiotics may support the health of the gut microbiome and the brain-gut axis
- Diet: what we eat profoundly affects the gut microbiome. For example, eating a more plant-based diet with few refined carbohydrates and little or no red meat often leads to a healthier microbiome. These dietary changes in turn reduce intestinal inflammation and may help reduce systemic symptoms such as fatigue or depression and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
As scientists continue to research our “tiny brains” (enteric system), it is drastically clear that those butterflies we have all felt in our bellies are in fact hyper critical nerve and immune cells reacting to our bodies needs and our “big brain’s” vital messages. Further research continues to show that digestive system activity may affect cognition (memory and problem solving) and our ability to improve or reduce our short and longer-term health and overall wellness.