The Gut and the Brain Relationship

brain health nutrition Aug 03, 2023

Did you know that there is a relationship between the gut (aka - the digestive system) and the brain? That’s right and it is an important one! It is called the gut-brain axis and it refers to the connection and communication between the gut and the brain. This bidirectional communication system involves various components, including the nervous system, immune system and hormones. Recent research has shed light on the significant role of the gut-brain axis in different aspects of health such as mood regulation, immune function and even metabolism.

The gut and the brain are connected by the vagus nerve, a nerve that extends from the brainstem to the abdomen. This nerve carries signals from the gut to the brain and vice versa, allowing the brain to receive information about the state of the gut and respond accordingly. Additionally, the gut contains its own network of neurons, known as the enteric nervous system, which can function independently of the central nervous system. Yes, you read that correctly! The gut can operate without the help of the central nervous system. Pretty amazing if you ask me!

One of the most well-known functions of the gut-brain axis is its role in regulating mood and behavior. The gut produces several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which plays a key role in regulating mood. Research has shown that disturbances in the gut microbiota (all of the good and bad bacteria living in the microbiome) due to many different things such as not consuming enough pre-biotic and probiotic-rich foods, can lead to changes in the production of neurotransmitters. These can have a direct effect on mood and behavior.

The gut-brain axis also plays a critical role in regulating immune function. The gut is home to a large number of immune cells, which help protect the body from infection and disease. The gut microbiota plays a very important role in regulating immune function, as the microbiota helps train the immune system to recognize and respond to different pathogens.

Lastly, the gut-brain axis is essential for regulating metabolism. The gut produces several hormones that regulate appetite and energy expenditure, including ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone). Research has shown that disturbances in the gut microbiota can lead to changes in the production of these hormones, which can lead to metabolic dysfunction and obesity.

As you strive to improve your mood, behavior, immune system and metabolism, be sure to place prebiotic-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grain, beans, nuts and seeds and probiotic-rich foods such as plain yogurt, kefir, kimchi and miso on your high priority list to consume on a daily basis. These types of foods will improve the health of your microbiota. Sometimes, a probiotic supplement is useful but if you take one, be sure it has at least 5 different strains of bacteria. I recommend consulting one of the eNRG Performance Sport Dietitians to help determine the best route to improve the health of your gut and as you just learned, your brain also.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions about the gut-brain axis or how to improve gut health and digestive system functioning.


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