How Digestive Health Affects the Brain

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The relationship between our body’s health and the food we eat has been studied more than any other aspect of human health.

The understanding that, “you are what you eat” has been a part of the human lexicon for ages.

Recently, we’ve become more aware of the relationship between our digestive health and the healthy functioning of our brain.

Taking care of our digestive system and creating a beneficial environment in our stomach for the many symbiotic microorganisms that call it home has a significant impact on the way our brains function and our psychological well-being.

An Unhealthy Digestive System Impairs the Brain

We know that the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) communicates with the brain, but how exactly does an unhealthy digestive system impair the brain’s performance?

Research suggests that changes in the microbial activity in humans may contribute to debilitating brain diseases including autism spectrum disorder.

Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest the possibility that the gut’s microbial ability even affects the food we crave.

To funnel supportive nutrition to the ENS and its microbial inhabitants, microbes may influence the reward center of the brain and affect decision making.

Communication between the gut and the brain is bidirectional.

Interactions between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system affect the hypothalamus, which links the nervous system to the endocrine system through the pituitary gland.

These areas of the brain regulate everything from the temperature of the body to sexual impulses and appetite.

Gut microbiota can influence neuronal activity by influencing the production of neurotransmitters, microbial metabolites, and vitamins.

The output of short-chain fatty acids, serotonin, and dopamine, are all affected by microbial activity and can have a significant impact on the brain.

Having Trouble Sleeping? Your Gut Might be the Problem

Serotonin is more prolific in the gut than in any other place in the body.

Serotonin has been linked to a variety of functions including mood regulation, hunger, our ability to remember, our sexual desire, the digestion of food and our social behavior.

It’s also the most important regulatory neurotransmitter which regulates sleep.

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Disruptions in serotonin production have been linked to disruptions in the sleep cycle leading to depression, anxiety and obesity.

Serotonin may affect the healthy functioning of almost every cell in the brain, either directly or indirectly, because of its role in communicating between nerve cells.

Although the serotonin produced in the gut regulates different systems than the serotonin produced in the brain, indirect links between serotonin production in the gut and brain function continue to be explored.

An unhealthy digestive system impairs serotonin production in the gut, which is believed to affect the vagal nerve that connects the enteric nervous system to the central nervous system.

While research still needs to be done showing the direct mechanism for these interactions, the link between gastrointestinal diseases and sleep disorders shows a correlative link.

As research continues to explore the broad-ranging effects of digestive health with the functioning of the brain, these links are slowly becoming clear.

A Healthy Gut Helps Regulate Our Mood

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We used to think about the microorganisms living inside us as being parasites, but this is far from the truth.

There are millions of nerve cells lining the walls of our intestinal tract that are collectively called the Enteric Nervous System. The ENS is like a miniature brain that governs activity in the stomach.

While the ENS not capable of higher thought, it’s responsible for many regulatory activities that we normally attribute to the brain.

The ENS has the important function of regulating the enzymes that help to break down our food. It is even suggested that the ENS can actually cause emotional shifts in people suffering from digestive abnormalities that include increased depression and anxiety.

But how do the microorganisms surrounding the ENS affect it?

Well, the flora living in the gut produce chemical compounds that target the ENS, the brain and other organs.

These effects are so significant that the microbiome itself has often been called a virtual organ.

As our understanding grows, so does the knowledge that humans have evolved with a sympathetic relationship to the microscopic lifeforms that call our bodies home.

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No longer regarded as parasites, these microbes are finally being recognized for the essential role they play in a healthy functioning system.

How to Safely Cleanse and Restore the Digestive System

There is little doubt that our stomachs are paying the price for our modern lifestyle.

Unhealthy foods, chemicals, and environmental pollutants have collectively made our intestines a hostile living environment for our gut flora.

Additionally, the assault of antibiotics that have been prescribed by doctors to combat every illness and prevent infections from every accident has eliminated many of the healthy microbes that should be thriving within us.

Thankfully, cleansing our digestive tract is not difficult, at least in theory. The body has excellent mechanisms for purifying itself if we simply stop introducing new contaminants.

Eating clean, avoiding processed foods, sugars and food treated with harmful chemicals will begin the process. According to Columbus Recovery, it’s also important to avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other harmful intoxicants, both for the purpose of your detoxification and your overall health. Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest.

Foods that can re-establish your gut biome include fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, high-fiber foods like oats, flax and chia seeds, and other prebiotics.

Probiotics can help reintroduce healthy microbes into your system.

Supplementing Omega 3 fatty acids and regulating your other essential amino acids will help to create the ideal environment in which microbial life can thrive.

Now you’ve learned something new about gut health and the connection that it has to brain function.

If you are having issues with your gut health and are wondering if it really is the cause of some of these less-verified symptoms, consult your doctor to find out for sure.

If you liked learning about this, we have many great articles about fun facts and other new things to learn. Check out our ebook options in order to get your Smartenings courses today!

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