The close connection between gut health and neurological wellbeing is becoming increasingly recognised. The ‘power of the mind’ is a well established phenomenon and therefore, it is widely accepted that our brain can affect the gut. Interestingly though, there are now studies demonstrating that the impact also applies the other way round. That is, the influence may even be more profound in the direction from gut to brain.
Think of the commonly used phrase, “gut feeling”, for example. This is indicative of the relationship between our gut and our mind, as this often very compelling sensation emanates in our stomach, and sends signals to the brain. These gut reactions often determine how we behave in certain situations as well as informing some of the biggest decisions we make. Most people can recall at least one time in their life where they haven’t responded to a situation based on a negative gut feeling, that we later come to regret.
This week, Brain Awareness Week (16 - 22 March), we are exploring the relationship between gut and brain. This connection empowers individuals to look after their mental wellbeing through a combination of diet, stress management, mental stimulation, exercise and other lifestyle factors.
So, how are the gut and brain linked?
Scientific research has increasingly demonstrated strong links between the gut (specifically the microbiome*) and virtually all other systems of the body. In particular, the immune and neurological systems.
*The microbiome is a collective term for our gut flora, and is now known to be hugely influential on our health and wellbeing.
Neurologists, Dr David Perlmutter (author of Grain Brain the The Brain Maker) and Dr Michael Gershon (author of The Second Brain) are amongst many to have comprehensively explored the gut/brain relationship. Both of these doctors acknowledge researchers’ discoveries and hypotheses proposed early in the 20th century, in relation to the way gut health influenced brain function and mood. These studies subsequently lost momentum and were frequently dismissed, giving way to the view that brain health had the power to influence gut health, but the other way round was not plausible.
The evidence now suggests that the brain and gut affect each other, but mostly in the direction from gut to brain. A decade ago, this notion would’ve been met with ridicule.
The majority of messages between the brain and the gut go in the direction of gut to brain, via the vagus nerve. The identification of these specific pathways has been made possible with functional MRI imaging. With this in mind, it makes sense that when gut flora is healthy, we are also more likely to have more mood stability.
This is evidenced in a study done by Professor Emeran Mayer where it was found that the group consuming fermented yogurt (a renowned gut healing food) consistently demonstrated a calmer emotional response.
With modern day western lifestyles, our gut flora is frequently out of balance, creating a condition known as dysbiosis. That is, the protective (good) bacteria have been largely destroyed, allowing harmful, opportunistic pathogens a chance to become dominant. Our gut flora is impacted by a number of factors, from the way in which we are born, whether or not we are breastfed, surgeries, drugs, (especially antibiotics), stress and diet.
The most significant causes for the increased prevalence of dysbiosis are the over-use of antibiotics (both in humans and animals), the use of herbicides such as glyphosate (compound in round up) and the quantity of highly processed and sugary foods we consume.
Processed foods put stress on the body which causes inflammation. The body responds to this stress by producing insulin to maintain balance (the body requires much more insulin to process high-sugar foods than it requires to break down a nutritious whole food meal).
How do we support our gut flora and in turn, our mental health?
The question remains as to what we can do to correct dysbiosis and support healthy gut flora. The most immediate measure we can take is to stop feeding the gut microbes processed foods and excess sugar. Secondly, encouraging healthy gut flora by including probiotic and prebiotic foods (or a good quality probiotic supplement) would be highly beneficial. It is important to note, however, that the way in which these probiotic foods are introduced will depend on the level of dysbiosis and should be upon review of individual symptoms.
Fermented gut healing food and drinks such as kimchi, yoghurt, kefir and kombucha have gained much popularity due to their beneficial effect on gut flora. Our Nexba Kombucha range as well as our Probiotix waters use a strain of unique and robust probiotics. The probiotics we use have a hard protective shell or spore like protein coating which means they can survive the harsh PH levels of the stomach acid and actually make it to the intestines where they are needed to create change. Research shows that 85% of the probiotics reach the intestines (this is far more than most!).
We use our kombuchas and probiotix waters in a number of recipes that can be found here on our blog, or you and simply enjoy them straight. As well as supporting gut health (and in turn, brain health), introducing these beverages into your diet is also a great way to reduce your sugar intake as our drinks are both 100% sugar free, and 100% natural.
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