The Gut-Brain Axis
The conversation surrounding this central line of communication is becoming louder and louder each day. But, what is it? and what does this mean for me? With so many symptoms so closely controlled by this chemical exchange it is essential that we understand the basics. Hopefully this can shed a little light on alternative strategies to address the likes of anxiety, depression, weight gain, poor energy, insomnia, body aches, poor concentration... to name a few!
What is the Gut-Brain Axis?
The gut-brain axis involves the chemical communication between our gut and brain (between our gastrointestinal tract and nervous system). There are 3 key players involved in this transaction: the vagus nerve, gut microbiota and the enteric nervous system (the network of nerves within the gut).
Vagas nerve: Connects the brain to organs including the GUT. The means by which our nerve fibres in the intestines communicate back to the brain. Stimulating the vegas nerve assists in initiating our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest-and-digest mode).
Gut microbiota: A community of microorganisms that live in our gut (weighing up to 2kg’s). These microbes have many essential functions including digesting foods, producing vitamins B and K and acting as a barrier against threatening invasions.
Enteric nervous system (ENS): An extensive grouping of neurons that manage the digestive tract contractions/movement, blood flow and fluid balance. The ENS has two-way communication with the brain to govern the digestive system at a local level and whole body level- determining the physiological demands of all the bodily systems.
Gut-Brain Axis and Mind Health:
Poor gut health (in its many forms) leads to an imbalance in the beneficial gut bacteria. This leads to the release of inflammatory markers and an altered production of essential nutrients and neurotransmitters (serotonin is produced in the gut). It has been acknowledged that inflammation is associated with mind health imbalances (depression and anxiety). Inflammatory markers can lead to neural inflammation which can result in behavioural changes. Certain inflammatory markers disrupt neurotransmitter metabolism, production and function.
What This Means:
Our gut health can directly interact with and effect our brain health. Neurotransmitter activity is the central chemical factor associated with mind health disorders.
Supporting Mind Health Through Your Gut:
This is an essential step in regaining balance and mind stability. Some ways to support this process include:
Stress management- Supporting your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode) and lessening any dominance of your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight- stress response – high cortisol release). Find a way to manage this that suits you, no one person is the same! Some recommendations: hypnotherapy, meditation, nature walks, time outside with feet on the ground, mild exercise, swimming, yoga, tai chi.
Stimulating the vegus nerve- Humming: The vagus nerve passes through the vocal cords and inner ear. The simple act of humming to your favourite song can create enough vibration to influence your vagus nerve and nervous system. Conscious breathing: Concentrate on moving the belly and diaphragm with your breath and begin to slow down your breathing. Vagus nerve stimulation occurs when the breath is slowed down from the typical 10-14 breaths per minute to 5-7 breaths per minute
Balancing the microbiome- Include prebiotic foods (radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, asparagus, carrots, sweet potato, onions and garlic are all particularly good), probiotic foods (fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, kombucha and fermented vegetables). Probiotic therapy can be prescribed for you, and is a very effective way of restoring the health of your microbiome.
Diet- Remove processed sugar and processed foods from your diet. Focus on obtaining natural sugars from fresh vegetables and fruits instead. And opt fresh whole foods where possible (try to include a rainbow of colours in your meals), adequate protein and good fats.
**Speak to a holistic Nutritionist to assess your individual requirements**