The human body is a marvel of interconnected systems, and one such fascinating connection exists between our gut and brain. While the gut is primarily responsible for digestion, it is now increasingly recognized as a “second brain” due to its profound influence on our mental health and overall well-being. The intricate network of communication and feedback loops between the gut and the brain has given rise to the concept of the gut-brain connection. Here, we research the scientific understanding of this complex relationship, exploring how the gut and the brain interact, the role of gut microbiota, and the implications for mental health.
- The Anatomy and Communication Pathways: To appreciate the gut-brain connection, it is essential to understand the anatomy and communication pathways involved. The gut, or the gastrointestinal tract, is a lengthy tube extending from the esophagus to the rectum. Within this organ lies the enteric nervous system (ENS), sometimes called the “second brain.” The ENS contains millions of neurons, comparable to those found in the spinal cord, forming an intricate web that governs digestive processes.
- The connection between the gut and the brain occurs through several channels. The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, is a major pathway, relaying signals bidirectionally between the brain and the gut. Additionally, hormonal signaling and immune system molecules facilitate communication and influence the gut-brain axis.
The Microbial Mediators: One of the key factors in the gut-brain connection is the gut microbiota—the vast community of microorganisms inhabiting our digestive tract. These microbes, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, play a pivotal role in our health, influencing physiological processes and modulating the gut-brain axis.
Emerging research suggests that the gut microbiota produces bioactive compounds, such as neurotransmitters and short-chain fatty acids, which can influence brain function and behavior. For instance, serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation, is primarily synthesized in the gut. Changes in the gut microbiota composition, known as dysbiosis, have been associated with various mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
Moreover, the gut microbiota communicates with the brain via multiple pathways, including the vagus nerve and the production of metabolites that can cross the blood-brain barrier. This bidirectional communication contributes to the modulation of emotional behavior, stress response, and cognition.
Impact on Mental Health
The gut-brain connection significantly affects mental health and various psychiatric conditions. Research has shown that disturbances in gut microbiota composition, such as reduced microbial diversity, may contribute to developing or exacerbating mental health disorders.
Depression and anxiety are among the most well-studied conditions concerning the gut-brain axis. Studies have revealed alterations in gut microbiota in individuals with these disorders and changes in the expression of neurotransmitters and neurotrophic factors. Furthermore, preclinical studies in animal models have demonstrated that manipulating the gut microbiota can influence depressive and anxious behaviors.
Emerging evidence also suggests that the gut-brain connection extends to other conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative diseases. Although the research in these areas is still evolving, it highlights the potential for targeted interventions that modulate the gut microbiota to improve mental health outcomes.
Strategies for a Healthy Gut-Brain Axis
Maintaining a healthy gut-brain axis is vital for overall well-being. Several lifestyle and dietary factors can support a flourishing gut microbiota and promote mental health:
a) Balanced Diet: A varied diet rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics can promote diverse and healthy gut microbiota. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut are excellent sources of probiotics.
b) Stress Management: Chronic stress can negatively impact the gut-brain axis. Executing stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, exercise, and adequate sleep can help maintain a healthy balance.
c) Regular Physical Activity: Exercise has been shown to influence gut microbiota composition and promote mental well-being positively.
d) Antibiotic Use: While antibiotics are sometimes necessary, they can disrupt the gut microbiota. When prescribed, discussing strategies to mitigate the potential impact on gut health with healthcare providers is important.
The gut-brain connection is a captivating area of scientific research, shedding light on the bidirectional communication between our “second brain” and the central nervous system. The influence of the gut microbiota and the complex pathways involved highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy gut-brain axis for optimal mental health.
While understanding the gut-brain connection is still evolving, it holds immense promise for future therapeutic interventions. Targeted approaches that manipulate the gut microbiota or restore balance within the gut-brain axis may offer new avenues for treating mental health disorders.
As we continue to explore the confusion of this remarkable relationship, it is clear that nurturing our gut health through a balanced diet, stress management, regular exercise, and other lifestyle factors can positively impact our mental well-being. By embracing the potential of the gut-brain connection, we can unlock a new realm of possibilities for improving mental health outcomes and leading happier, healthier lives.
NourishDoc: Hello, everyone. We all know that the gut is our second brain and a neuro system is connected. There is a highway going up and down. So now, what should we eat that will feed our gut and neuro system? So that’s what we are talking about is Gut Neuro Nutrition with Sreemathy, one of India’s leading nutritionists. She is on the board of the national board. She is a speaker. She has written all kinds of books. She is researching, so I am excited to welcome her to discuss this great topic. Welcome, Sreemathy.
Nutritionist Sreemathy: Hello, Amita, and thank you NourishDoc, for having me in this important live forum.
Gut Neuro Nutrition
NourishDoc: Thank you. So let’s understand when we say gut neuro nutrition. What exactly do you mean by that?
Nutritionist Sreemathy: Okay, as you already said, that is a highway. The gut and the brain are connected through billions of nerves. So if you keep your gut healthy, the brain is also healthy. Like a cell phone messenger, straight talk goes between the brain and the gut. So, if you are thirsty, if you are hungry, if you are full, your mood, your anxiety, your depression. How do you feel? Everything is definitely through your gut.
So, you keep your gut healthy. The brain is also healthy. So, the way you focus your attention. So, it doesn’t matter what age you are, what work you are doing, or what profession you are in. So, it is very important to keep the gut healthy, so your brain is optimal to prevent depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
So, as you said, it’s a great highway with much traffic and continuous messages passing through. So, it is like a cell phone and a sim card, and without both one, without the other, it can’t just do it. So, keep your power healthy.
What Are the Neurotransmitters in the Gut?
NourishDoc: I love the way; I love the analogy you gave. It’s beautiful. So, let’s talk about, they talk about the neurotransmitters in the gut, right? What does it mean by that?
Nutritionist Sreemathy: So, the neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers. So, these are the messengers that take all the messages. So, when you’re, for example, eating a kind of food, and you’re full. So, the message goes from the gut to the brain, saying you are full. I just can’t another mouthful. But suppose you are stressed out, and it says, no, I need something sweet, I crave for sweet; it’s the signal going from the gut to the brain because you are stressed out.
You are reaching for the tub of ice cream at night, or you want something chocolate or something crunchy, salty, and all that. So, what happens is the neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers. So, we need to make sure that these are in a properly balanced way for the gut. So, let me tell you some examples.
So, the neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, the feel-good hormones secreted, and GABA. The GABA is the Gama amino nitric acid. So, all these are as a qualified clinical dietitian and a wellness nutritionist. I want to stress that only take some things as food or an individual; what do you say about a particular nutrient that differs from how it works? The body is a well or in the machine that knows how to control how to optimize.
Homeostasis is it knows itself to know how to control the temperature. How to keep the blood pressure? How to make sure that you are sleeping or whether you are sleepy. Everything is well-regulated. So, all that depends upon a balanced diet. So, as a qualified person, I will never say take a particular nutrient intake.
So there are certain habits, and definitely, there are certain foods. So serotonin, 90% of this feel-good neurotransmitter, is produced in the gut. The full dopamine feels good. So again, the lack of dopamine gives you Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
You will be surprised that so much research says that the first neurodegenerative, for example, Parkinson’s, the tremors that first show externally if you say four, five years before, the gut is already showing those signs in the form of a leaky gut, a gut dysbiosis all those things. So, GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, all these neurotransmitters, are produced in the gut with the beneficial bacteria, which is the trillions of cells. That is the gut microbiome.
Taking Care of Our Gut Microbiome
NourishDoc: That’s fascinating, and you’re saying that if someone has leaky gut, this, it’s already, it’s telling us, something is wrong, right? And then that could lead to depression, dementia, Parkinson’s, all kinds of mental issues that you’re suggesting.
So let’s understand our gut microbiome; there is so much research, as you are as researchers did about that. What is it that you would recommend? If we have only a few minutes left, which is a quick 10-minute session today, what can we do to improve our gut microbiome?
Nutritionist Sreemathy: So the best thing to increase the beneficial bacteria, just like we promote diversity in our environment, we need to have diverse beneficial bacteria in the gut. So the first thing is following a circadian rhythm in eating. So try to eat everything only during the night or something. Food groups include all the food groups.
So, the more colorful veggies and fruits you eat, the more nature has made each vegetable and fruit in a particular color have different phytonutrients, which are red, such as capsicum. It’s green and yellow; it’s red. Each one has its phytonutrients. So, the different colors, the more colorful you eat, the better it is. So, break the monotony in your diet.
Everybody uses just four or five same fruits or vegetables, so eat in season. Have lots of nuts and seeds. Plant foods, but there is the Mediterranean diet, where the fish is rich, and the salmon and Macari are rich in omega three. The walnuts, the almonds. So the more fiber you eat. So, incorporate fiber only found in plant foods such as vegetables and fruits.
Ensure you have healthy fats in mustard oil, olive oil, sesame, and all those things in moderation. Definitely, please do not be overweight or obese because they have found that an obese person’s gut microbiome already has a lot of dysbiosis, which is not beneficial, to the bad bacteria that is there. So, to tell you something, Amita is how a baby is born.
So, a cesarean section or a natural section, natural delivery. The gut micro of the baby coming out is completely different from the one that comes through a cesarean or the one that comes through a natural delivery. So, it is linked to our food habits, mindset, daily rituals, and hydration. The way you eat, when you eat, how you eat, what you eat?
Daily Routine & Self-Care Tips
NourishDoc: Wow, this is absolutely fascinating, and we are oblivious to this whole thing. Now, there’s so much research that’s come up, right? In the last five years, there has been a link between the gut with the brain. So what are your final thoughts for our viewers? This is an amazing session that you have, but what are the final thoughts before we wrap up today?
Nutritionist Sreemathy: The final thought is to always not go for crash or fad diets. It might have a short-term goal that you can do, like weight loss, but vitamins have long-term implications. Ensure you incorporate all food groups, exercise, and stress relief in yoga and meditation; being out in the sunlight greatly helps.
Spring is in season everywhere, and summer is around the corner. So, make use of it the most and make sure that you have a daily routine that helps you have a great gut microbiome which gives you better immunity and mood and prevents many diseases in the long term if weight management is very, very important.
NourishDoc: I think it’s fascinating because Ayurveda talks about the daily routine, which we are not going to get into right now, and also, we had a session again on FAD diets like juice diets, lot of us go on to that just very quickly, and then suddenly we find other health implications come along. So, to your point, very, very important to eat a healthy, balanced life to ensure our gut microbiome is healthy.
Nutritionist Sreemathy: Definitely, you got it right.
NourishDoc: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining me today. I know you’re very busy, and to all the viewers, take care of your gut, and you’ll be happy. That’s the message we propagate here, and you keep supporting us daily. With that, have a great week. Thank you so much. This is Amita signing off, and thank you so much.