The Gut-Brain Connection and How It Works

Have you ever heard the saying trust your gut feeling? That gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach is all too real. This gut-wrenching feeling from your belly suggests that your brain and gut are connected. Your gut is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy - and your brain can react to signals from your stomach.

The communication system between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis.

What is “the gut”?

The gastrointestinal system, also referred to as the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, digestive tract, or gut, is a group of organs that are involved in digesting food and processing it into waste. The lining of your gut is often called “the second brain.”

How are the brain and gut connected?

The gut or “second brain” can operate on its own and communicates back and forth with your actual brain. They are connected in two main ways:

  • Physically: The vagus nerve, which controls messages to the gut as well as the heart, lungs and other vital organs is the guts direct connection to the brain.
  • Chemically: The gut also connects with the brain through chemicals like hormones and neurotransmitters that send messages. Neurotransmitters produced in the brain control feelings and emotions. For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and also helps control your body clock. The chemical messages that pass between the gut and the brain can be affected by the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut called the “gut microbiome.”

The bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut may be beneficial, harmless or harmful.

How does the gut microbiome relate to our brain and mental health?

There is a strong relationship between having mental health problems and having things like heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, pain, constipation, and or diarrhea. Research in animals has shown that changes in the gut microbiome and inflammation in the brain can cause symptoms that look like Parkinson's disease, autism, anxiety and depression. Having anxiety and depression can cause changes in the gut microbiome because of what happens in the body when it has a stress response.

In response to your brain, your gut microbes produce lots of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) such as propionate and acetate. They make SCFA by digesting fiber. SCFA affects brain function in numerous ways, such as reducing appetite. All the more reason to eat a balanced and nutritious diet – so that your gut and your brain can be healthy.

There are millions of nerves and neurons running between your gut and brain. Neurotransmitters and other chemicals produced in your gut also affect your brain. By altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health.

You can take Omega-3 fatty acids, fermented foods, and probiotics to help improve your gut health, which can help benefit the gut-brain axis.

Book a call with our Wellness Coordinator to learn more