The Gut-Brain Axis Simplified & Explained

With a large amount of delicious and sometimes unhealthy food readily available in the supermarkets, we often forget that ultimately we are what we eat. More specifically, our nutritional habits are among the most influential factors that can either damage or improve our mental wellbeing. 

The concept of the gut-brain axis explains the bidirectional connection between our bellies and our mental health. The link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) of our bodies is undeniable, and it should not be neglected when facing physical and psychological issues.

Let’s have a look at the elements that influence this relationship and how to improve our general wellbeing by promoting a balance between our brain and guts.

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Understanding how the gut-brain axis work can encourage you to switch to better habits.

Our brains and bellies are interconnected through a number of channels. Some are more obvious while others are easily overlooked. Different eating of lifestyle habits can affect the balance of these channels and create an interference in the communication. Understanding what factor influences a specific channel can help you solve naturally physical and mental issues you have been experiencing.

Treating your guts well can help you reduce stress

gut brain axis 1

The Vagus Nerve, and the central nervous system in our bodies, is arguably the most important channel that needs to be considered. Similarities can be found in the composition of our brains and guts, both containing millions of neurons that send signals in both directions. Everybody has at least once experienced gastrointestinal problems due to stress.

Oppositely, being stressed for a prolonged period of time can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and Peptic ulcers.

High-Fiber foods can help you relax

Research published in The Journal of Physiology has proven that introducing regularly whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seeds, in your diet can reduce the stress deriving from everyday life. Moreover, food filled with probiotic fibres has been shown to lower levels of stress hormones in humans and relieve the effects of stress-related issues.

A diet that is low in fibres can negatively affect our mental wellbeing as well as our behaviour, so it is important to introduce prebiotic food regularly within our eating habits.

Neurotransmitters give you balance

Neurotransmitters are a chemical that is formed by the microbes in our guts. Neurotransmitters and serotonin are responsible for balancing our body clock and for creating a feeling of happiness. GABA, a specific chemical created in our guts, has been proven by Dr. Mazzoli and Dr. Pessione to play an important role in keeping under control the feelings of fear and anxiety that we might be experiencing. The stability of the levels of both serotonin and SABA neurotransmitters is essential to living a balanced lifestyle.

Veggies can make you happier

Researchers have found that introducing green vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower into your diet can help you regulate the levels of neurotransmitters in our body and live a more balanced feeling. The effects of choline on neurotransmitters are visible, as it creates a better and stronger connection between your gut and brain. This allows anybody suffering from mental and physical issues to balance out their emotions.

Moreover, by improving cognitive abilities, vegetables and fruits can help you think clearer and more logically about a specific issue.

Cheese is the go-to food if you are feeling blue

Tryptophan-rich foods such as cheese, turkey, and eggs help to produce an amino acid that can be converted into the serotonin neurotransmitter. This means that even small quantities of these foods in your diet can improve your mood and promote a sense of happiness and calm.

Studies found that eating pineapple and tofu can help you feel good and positively affect your behaviour. Moreover, insomnia and other sleeping disorders symptoms can be relieved with these foods as they create a balanced rhythm in your sleeping pattern.

Can an unhealthy gut cause anxiety?

Similarly to stress-related disorders, mild to moderate anxiety can be caused by a diet that is poor in fibres and probiotics. Unhealthy eating patterns can create a lack of nutrients that help maintain a balance between our brains and guts. Nutritional problems and the inability to lose weight can also be deriving from an unhealthy gut.

Ultimately, according to PNAS, alterations to the gut microbiota composition have been proven to be beneficial to relieve the symptoms of more problematic issues such as major depressive disorders and schizophrenia.

Our guts and brains are linked by our immune system

The lymphoid tissue produced by our guts comprises 70% of the body’s immune system. Since our guts can be seen as the largest immune organ in the body, a change in its internal environment will affect how our bodies respond to disease and infections.

A study led by Dr. Rooks and Dr. Garrett has shown that the microbiota collection in our gut is essential for the growth and development of our immune system. Prolonged inflammation or a malfunctioning gut system can lead to serious mental diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Chocolate can make you feel better

A study by Dr. Hayek has found that Polyphenol-rich foods such as chocolate, olive oil, coffee, and green tea are the perfect option to boost your immune system. This is because they offer plant chemicals easily digested by the bacteria in our gut and provide a natural solution to potential information and gut diseases.

Moreover, they are proven to help to improve cognition and memory, giving you the extra energy you need if you are not feeling well. They promote fast recovery and strengthen our immune system.

Are you feeling tired? It might be due to your diet

healthy foods

A balanced connection between our guts and brains is essential for the growth and development of all of our functions. Most of the chemicals that affect how our brain works are produced by the trillions of microbes contained in our stomachs and bellies. Among the most important ones, short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are the ones that regulate our mental abilities, concentration, and focus.

A lack of these precious nutrients or an unhealthy diet can limit the supply of the nutrients needed by the brain to perform well. 

Omega-3 can improve your concentration

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found naturally in the human brain. They help protect our mental health and boost our concentration. By eating fatty-acids rich foods such as fish or Omega-3 supplements you will be able to see benefits in only a few days.

Studies have found a direct correlation between fatty acid intake and cognitive performance. They prevent the damage of brain cells and perform a key role in boosting communication between brain cells. 

Mild memory loss can be prevented by eating fatty acids

Dietitian Carolyn Snyder explains how eating fatty acids and food rich in Omega-3 can help prevent memory loss. The benefits range from the recovery of lost memories to the reduction of symptoms in patients with cognitive impairments. While there are still no proves that eating Omega-3 can improve the condition of patients affected by Alzheimer’s syndrome or serious brain diseases, if you need to boost your concentration levels and qualities, oily fish, nuts and seeds, and plant oils will be the perfect addition to your diet.

Do you need more brain-power? Have a cup of coffee!

Antioxidants are compounds that protect our brain and help fight free radicals. They are incredibly beneficial to our brain functions and can reduce the risk of cancer. In a cup of coffee, you will not only be able to enjoy all these benefits, but you will also have a good level of caffeine. This has been known as a great way to improve your mood and increase alertness.

Moreover, it has been seen that regular but moderate consumption of coffee can prevent serious mental diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinson's.

How does the gut affect the brain?

As we have seen there are a number of factors and channels that affect the relationship between our brain and guts. Anxiety, depression, poor concentration, and low cognitive abilities can all be due to a poor diet or an unhealthy gut. It is incredibly important to consider the nutrients contained in every single meal we decide to have, as this will most likely affect the brain-power level you will benefit from in the next day or two. In the case of poor diets, this can carry on for longer periods and lead to serious diseases.

Final Thoughts

While it is great to have a cheat day and enjoy a junk food meal once in a while, we should not overlook the relationship between our gut and brain. Especially in patients that are experiencing mild to moderate mental issues and conditions such as anxiety, looking into the diet rather than buying medicines can offer a natural solution to the problem.

Have you tried any of these foods? Have you been changing your diet and see some psychological benefits? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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