Gut-Brain Connection: How do gut and brain affect each other?
We all know about our physical brain development residing in our skull but did you about another “smaller brain” living in our gut? In this article we are going to reveal some informative and interesting things about this “small brain” and how does it control your mind and mood.
Introduction: Common instances suggesting a gut-brain connection
Visiting the examination hall or attending an interview brings about feelings of nausea- especially if you are not well-prepared. People with a fear of height start feeling throwing up when looking down from a great height. Most of us have come across the instances when we felt our bowels moving when the class teacher caught us red-handed dozing off during a class.
A majority of people come across situations where stressful conditions instantly impact their GI tract thus resulting in nausea, intestine pain, and other related issues. It happens due to the close relationship between the gut and your brain. Observing deeper we would find that all such (and similar) instances suggest some connection between brain and gut- most commonly known as the digestive tract. The recent research on this subject has an interesting story to tell- something that may pave a way for a revolutionary shift in psychological therapy as well as astrological issues.
How does the brain affect your gut?
The equation is more complex than we think and it has 3 participants- physical aspects, psychology, and guts that interplay with one another to trigger the symptoms like pain and bowel movements.
Along with triggering symptoms, psychology can also influence gut physiology.
GI tract can also alter the way your brain responds to specific signals like pain. That’s one reason why individuals with GI disorder are more sensitive to pain as their brain responds quickly and more intensely to pain signals. During the stress period, it becomes more challenging for these individuals to cope with even moderate physical pain.
Based on this information it seems reasonable to believe that in some particular cases, psychological therapies can play a vital supportive role in treating individuals with functional GI conditions. Along with being physically connected your brain and gut also share a biochemical identity. Researchers are also finding the different ways in which the digestive functions affect specific spheres of the brain-like cognition level and memory.
Moreover, there has been study-supported evidence proving the efficacy of psychological approaches in better treatment of digestion-related disorders (vis-à-vis conventional physical treatment methods.
A novel approach to intestinal disorders
If you are also suffering from intestinal or digestion-related issues try finding the link between these factors and your psychological condition. It might be possible that the psychological issues are responsible for your functional disorder in the GI tract. In such cases, you can reveal these psychological issues like stress, depression, etc. to your physician so that they can help you with a wholesome treatment to heal both physical and psychological factors behind digestion issues thus assuring better, quicker, and more sustainable treatment.
How does your gut affect your brain?
A specific sphere (not strictly “physical” in nature but determined by current functionalities) of your gut assumes the functions that closely resemble the human brain. This “gut-brain”, medically known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) has a total of 100+ million nerve cells divided into two slim layers running from esophagus to rectum inside your gastrointestinal tract.
You cannot think with this brain. The gut-brain helps in digestion management in diverse ways like swallowing, releasing key food-breaking enzymes, blood flow control, absorbing food nutrients, and finally flushing out the waste. This gut-brain frequently engages in two-way communication with your physical brain inside your head and the outcomes are remarkably important considering their intense impact on your mood and mental health physiotherapy.
That depression and other psychological conditions cause digestive issues is not a discovery but the latest studies show that it could be vice versa as well. It simply means that some of the possible reasons behind your depression and mood swings could be IBS, diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, or bloating. In that case, the solution (or at least some part of it) to your psychological problems lies in regulating your digestive system.
This research also holds key importance as a huge number of population- 3-4 out of every 10 people, suffers from digestive/bowel disorder. Likewise, the population with psychological disorders is equally high. Upon working on the discovery the physicians might be able to treat such instances more efficiently.
It is too early to predict things decisively but in patients with digestive issues, there are fairly good chances of a significant improvement in their condition by learning about and treating their psychological issues.
Vagus nerve: an important brain-gut connector
A human body has billions of neurons present that determine your body behavior. Around half a billion neurons of your gut are linked to your brain with nerves of the nervous system acting as the “linking chains”.
Among those nerves, there’s a remarkably long connecting nerve called the vagus that acts as a two-way signal transmitter between gut and brain.
In other words, the stress in this nerve may have a corresponding impact on the digestive tract as well as your brain. In everyday language, we can say that digestion disorders and depression are interconnected
Neurotransmitters: Human “emotion shapers” are partially produced in your gut
Your brains produce specific biochemicals that help in shaping your emotions and feelings. Neurotransmitters, as this biochemical is called, also act as a link between the gut and brain. Understandably their sphere of functions is also divided between brain and gut. An instance of this is happiness causing Serotonin (a type of neurotransmitter) which also manages the biological clock of the human body.
It is also worth mentioning that along with your brain the gut cells also produce a significant amount of neurotransmitters with psychological effects like Serotonin and GABA (which controls anxiety/fear in human beings).
Gut-produced fatty acids influence the brain’s appetite feeling
It would be interesting to note that the neurotransmitters aren’t the only psychology-related chemicals produced by your gut.
The SCFA (Short-chain fatty acids produced by the gut microbes also have a specific influence on your brain like lowering the feeling of appetite.
Likewise, certain processes by your gut microbes like bile acids/amino acids also form brain-affecting chemicals.
Gut-related LPS and Inflammation can cause psychological issues
Inflammation treatment and immunity profile test management are among key work areas of your gut and its habitant microbes as they decide the food elements that would further be processed inside your system and the ones that would be flushed out of your body.
Likewise, inflammation is also related to diverse brain-related issues including depression. One of the reasons behind inflammation is overworking of the immune system.
For instance, if your gut sends more than the above quantity of a specific inflammatory toxin called Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to the blood it can result in inflammation and may eventually expose you to mental disorders associated with the same. Keep in mind that it is not the sure outcome but it does increase the probabilities
A leaky gut barrier is a prime cause behind the overflow of LPS into the blood.
Both LPS and inflammation are linked with various psychological disorders.
How to manipulate gut-brain connection for improving conventional treatment?
Due to the frequent two-way communication between the skull brain and gut-brain they can influence each other in specific ways. It widens our horizons of perception while treating patients with psychological or digestion-related issues. The time has arrived when gastroenterologists, psychologist’s psychiatrists, and certified therapists should collectively engage in a healthy mutual discussion for understanding and manipulating the interplay of skull brain and gut-brain. It will help in designing a broad, wholesome treatment plan for their respective patients.
The idea is not to send IBS patients to a psychiatrist or refer psychology patients to a gastroenterologist. Rather the patients with a long history of irritable bowel symptoms might be healed better by prescribing a few mild antidepressants. Likewise, people with psychological disorders might be given digestion-regulating drugs along with their main treatment for better and quicker results. The focus is on ensuring healthy communication between the skull brain and gut-brain so that they should favorably influence each other.
Can a gut-friendly diet be a key to improve mental health?
Along with medications and treatment, this new field of study can also impact the ideal diet regimen of patients. For instance, eating probiotics may enhance your mood by working on your gut tract- or the small brain.
Probiotics are good for your gut …. and brain too
We all are aware of the positive effect of probiotics on your gut and digestion. Besides, specific types of probiotics termed psychobiotic can also influence your brain in several ways like relieving depression, anxiety, or stress.
Likewise, some fibers that your gut bacteria ferment can also have a specific impact on the overall well being of your brain. These fermented fibers called prebiotics can help you to feel better and more positive.
Gut-Brain Connection and You: What should you eat to take the best advantage of the brain-gut connection?
Just like our fingerprints the gut microbiota – the bacterial residents of your intestine, are also unique to each individual. With a total weight reaching up to six pounds the gut microbiota is a massive colony of micro-organisms- in trillions.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a specific type of probiotic bacteria that contains GABA- a neurotransmitter that can bring about chemical changes in our brain. In this capability, GABA acts as an anxiety pacifier and brain activity regulator.
In other words, diet modification/regulation can go a long way in optimizing mental health and provide a wholesome, more effective treatment of hyperactivity, autism, and other similar disorder related to stress and neurodevelopment factors. Further research on the subject can open the way to a better more sustainable ways to treat mental disorders.
One of the ways to heal brain disorders could be to alter the bacteria population and profile of your gut. The easiest way to do this is to eat gut-friendly foods.
As you have learned so much about the healthy connection shared by gut and brain, you might be curious to know how can you incorporate a gut-friendly diet in your schedule that also benefits your mental health. So, here are some foods that are beneficial for your gut as well as the brain.
Here are a few foods that promote your gut-brain health:
- Omega-3 fats
- Fermented eatables like sauerkraut, cheese, Yogurt, and Kefir can modify the activities of the brain
- Nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods with a good amount of fiber have a positive impact on your gut (promoting gut bacteria) as well as on your brain (decreasing hormones that produce stress)
- Olive oil, cocoa, coffee, green tea, and other polyphenol rich foods can also help in accelerating the population of healthy gut bacteria while at the same time enhancing the cognitional ability of your brain.