A Gut-Brain Connection: What is it? Its Functions and the Role of Nutrition

Have you ever experienced an uneasy feeling in your stomach and butterflies around your tummy?

The sensations that emanate from your stomach suggest that your gut and brain are in close contact.

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

Most of us experience bizarre and unfathomable sensations in our stomachs from time to time. "Butterflies in the stomach," "gut-wrenching," and "gut-feeling" are some of the words and phrases that describe these feelings. They are typically triggered by emotional states such as anxiety, fear emotion, sadness, joy, etc.


A Gut-Brain Connection: What is it? Its Functions and the Role of Nutrition

Researchers and medical scientists have attributed these feelings to the gut-brain connection, a "two-way" communication system between the brain and the gut. This connection is responsible for the effects on the gut's health and brain's health, and in turn, vice versa. Let's explore the relationships between the brain and the gut and how it impacts their health and function.

The link between the brain and the gut


The link between the brain and gut comprises multiple biochemical and physical systems. This includes:

  • The nervous system
    Nerve cells, also known as neuronal, are the primary units that make up the central nervous system and the brain. There are more than 100 billion neurons inside the brain of a human. The gut is awe-inspiringly home to 500 million neurons that have connections to the brain through nerves. Scientists believe that a component in the brain's nervous system, dubbed"the enteric nervous system," can be found within the gut. The enteric nervous system can be known as"the "second brain."
    One of the most important nerves connecting the brain and the gut is the vagus nervous system. The vagus nerve allows for to and fro communications between the heart and brain. Many studies have shown that the vagus neuron plays an essential part in the brain-gut connection. Certain studies on animals have shown that stress is a factor in digestive issues through interference with signals sent through the vagus nervous system. Thorough research on humans has linked a reduced functioning of the vagus nerve to digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBS) and Crohn's Disease.
  • Neurotransmitters
    The brain and the gut are linked through neurotransmitters, too. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in your body, produced primarily in the brain. However, some are also made through gut cells and billions of microbes that reside within the gut. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that manages feelings and emotions, is produced primarily by the brain. However, a large portion of serotonin is produced by the gut.
    The gut microbes are responsible for producing the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acids (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter that has been shown to regulate feelings of fear and anxiety. Research has shown that GABA levels that are high GABA can be related to fewer depression symptoms and stress.
  • Short-chain acid fatty acids
    Short-chain fats (SCFAs) are chemical compounds produced by microbes living in the gut. SCFAs play a major role in giving nutrients to colon cells (large intestine) through the digestion of dietary fibres. Based on research, certain SCFAs can also influence the function of the brain.
    Propionate, one of the SCFAs produced in the gut, alters appetite by controlling the feeling of fullness and hunger. According to research, propionate could help reduce the consumption of food by preventing the brain's activity. Another SCFA is butyrate, and it is essential for the development of the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain border plays a crucial role in facilitating the flow of nutrients into the brain while also protecting it from toxic substances and harmful microorganisms.
  • The immune system
    The brain and the gut are also linked via our immune system. The microbes living in the gut, as well as the gut, play a crucial function in inflammation as well as immunity. A weakened immune system could result in inflammation. In the long run, chronic inflammation can negatively impact brain health by increasing the risk of depression and dementia (AD).
    Gut health issues can aid in the growth of specific bacteria that make lipopolysaccharide (LPS) an inflammatory toxin. This toxin can cause severe inflammation when too much of it enters the bloodstream from the gut, and this risk is increased when the barrier between the gut and the body gets leaking. The high LPS levels, in conjunction with inflammation, can lead to an increased risk of developing dementia as well as schizophrenia and severe depressive disorders.
    Prebiotics, probiotics, along with the link between the brain and gut Gut microbes influence the health of the brain and the stomach. They also affect the function of the brain-gut connection. It is crucial to ensure a balanced balance of microbes within the gut to enhance gut and brain health.
    Scientists have recommended the addition of prebiotics and probiotics to your diet to improve brain and gut health. These live bacteria can provide enormous positive health effects when eaten, and they are believed to improve digestion and decrease symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. Prebiotics are dietary fibres that function as nutrients for healthy gut microbes, and they can also benefit the brain and gut health.

Foods that are beneficial to the brain-gut connection


Certain kinds of food items will aid in the development of healthy microbes within the digestive tract and enhance brain health. The most important ones include:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Research studies have proven that increasing consumption of Omega-3 fats may assist in improving the good microbes living in the gut and decrease the risk of neurological diseases. Nuts, oily fish, and flaxseeds are among the most potent sources of omega-3 fats.
  • Fermented foods: Fermented foods are laced with lactic acid bacteria, which is an incredibly healthy microbe. They are believed to affect the health of the brain. Cheese and yogurt are two of the most consumed fermented food items.
  • Foods high in fibre: Foods with a high content of dietary fibres are beneficial for healthy gut microbes. Consuming foods high in fibre can reduce the number of stress hormones in your body. Chia seeds and lentils, almonds and oats are among the most effective sources of fibre in the diet.
  • Polyphenol-rich foods Polyphenols are chemical compounds originating from plants metabolized by microbes living in the gut. They are believed to promote the growth of healthy gut microbes and increase cognition. Polyphenols are present in berries, teas, coffee, cocoa beans, olive oil, nuts, etc.
  • Foods high in Tryptophan Tryptophan are amino acids made into the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Eggs, cheese, nuts, and eggs are excellent sources of Tryptophan.

Conclusion


The gut-brain link refers to the biochemical and physical mechanisms that connect the brain and the gut. This connection assists both organs in communicating directly, and it also ensures the health and function of both organs are connected to a large degree. When one of the organs is affected, and the other organ is affected, it will show signs also.

To enhance the overall health of your gut, brain, and gut-brain link, it is essential to ensure a balanced balance of microbes within the gut. In addition, consuming more probiotic-rich foods like omega-3 fatty acids, prebiotics, polyphenols, tryptophans, and polyphenols will aid in the development of healthy microbes within the gut.

Speak to a gastroenterologist should you have questions regarding digestion.

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